Ghana lies on longitude zero and latitude zero to a large extent. It therefore has a year-round supply of sunshine and yet Ghana has been grappling with a major energy crisis for the past two decades.
The question on everybody’s mind is; why are we not embracing solar energy?
The most significant obstacle to the development of Ghana’s solar sector has been political. Centralized power from large coal, thermal, gas and hydro plants has been the order of the day from the colonial days, and we always plan large projects to overcome our energy problems. Small and decentralized power projects are not lucrative enough to entice the appetite of the Ghanaian political system. In developing big fixes to solve short-term problems, logical solutions like solar energy is ignored in favor of crisis management. We are most often than not obsessed with hundred million dollar loans and grants aimed at expanding the grid to the whole country at the expense of practical and effective projects that will deliver the power that we really need. To this end, importing diesel to power the aboadze thermal plant is more ‘lucrative’ than expanding the VRA solar farm at Navrongo and replicating similar farms in Dzodze, Buipe, Mankessim, Obuasi and Prampram.
Ghana’s technocrats and politicians have been among the last in the world to adopt the message of decentralized power. Even though end consumers, adapting to regular power outages, are forced to utilize decentralized diesel generators from Aflao and Elubo to Lawra and Bawku, ignorance and inertia at policy levels have kept new solutions from gaining a foothold. Policy makers, often stuck in crisis-prevention mode on a day-to-day basis, haven’t looked forward to use of solar power. They have not had the time or support to create the policies, regulations and incentives necessary to start the transformation of power sectors to new sources. This is because of entrenched interests that actively seek to maintain the status quo. For instance whilst the use of diesel to power aboadze is extremely expensive for consumers, it is lucrative business for the well-connected moguls that have the supply contracts. Even if solar were cheaper (and it is lower cost that diesel generation from $100/barrel petroleum!), what business interest would the powerful elite have in replacing their generators with customer-owned solar power.
Ghana has a lot of technocrats and energy experts but until there is a paradigm shift in how we solve problems, we will never develop as we ought to.
Changes will only happen if and only if we change the ownership of the energy discussion. It is our problem and we need to look for solutions to it from energy sources that are readily available to us. The big-power, petroleum and coal-fuelled status quo kept in place by ignorance, inertia or greed, will not step aside voluntarily. We need to start investing in alternatives. This is not something that will be given to Ghana by donor agencies. It is something that Ghanaians themselves must achieve through discourse and activism of technocrats, politicians, civil society and the general power consuming public
We are the ones that are in need of the energy resources, hence we must investing, and deciding the direction that the country moves in. I am not in any way suggesting that big power should be thrown out of the window overnight because the question of energy access still remains central – because providing access to those without power is about political equity and a problem to be resolved. But at the same time, solar energy sectors must be built — in the same way electricity sectors have been built in the past through large investments in dams, coal stations, geothermal wells and transmission infrastructure. Solar must have its place at the table, with all of the other important generation technologies.
The will to make these difficult decisions will set us apart from others and propel Ghana into the future of development just like Kenya, Rwanda, Botswana and South Africa.
I thank Mark Hankins for inspiring these thoughts.
Kenneth Kwame Kpogo