Toward Clean and Green

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Toward clean and greenEarly in August, at a conference organized by Resource Driven Technology Centre for South Africa, Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor rolled out a prototype of a hydrogen-powered electric bicycle nicknamed “Ahi fambeni,” Tsonga language for “Let’s go.” Made of cutting-edge materials and intended to accommodate the transport needs of rural dwellers, Let’s Go is 100 percent homegrown. It was designed by a South African, renowned motorcycle designer Pierre Terblanche, and built by students of the country’s Tshwane University of Technology.

The bicycle, Pandor said, is a practical way to promote public awareness of hydrogen and fuel cell technology as a clean energy alternative. Citing China, where the number of electric bikes jumped to 21 million in 2008 from 400,000 a decade earlier, she said e-bikes are a huge part of the future of South Africa’s Green transport economy. They would start with a bicycle, then a tricycle, and then a car, she said.

The same week in Kenya, members of parliament unanimously called for the implementation of Green policies under the Kenya Vision 3030 development plan, in order to protect the environment. They were concerned, they said, that the development envisioned in the plan was certain to generate high pollution and accumulation of toxic waste and greenhouse gases, contributing to climate change. They proposed establishing mission standards; greater use of bicycles; introducing subways, trams and electric trains to the transportation system; creating traffic zones to better manage pollution from vehicles; a carbon tax aimed particularly at high-polluting vehicles and factories; curbing imports of old vehicles; management of electronic waste from computers, mobile phones, TV sets, radios, etc.; and the use of solar, biogas and wind energy as alternatives to the diesel and petrol engines.

“The world is going Green. There are Green economies. We need a central command to advise all ministries!”
MP Rachel Shebesh was quoted as declaring.

The already visible and worrisome fallout from declining soil fertility in some regions, high pollution associated with vehicles and manufacturing plants, desertification, poor access to R&D that leads to conservation and innovation, too-few or unenforced environment-friendly laws, is driving Africa’s move to clean technology and Green economies. The move seems painfully slow. Already, however, Kenya has the world’s highest household solar ownership rate, with about 30,000 small solar power systems sold each year, and so-called evergreen agriculture, which combines conservation agriculture with fertilizer trees on farms, is gaining momentum across the continent as a solution to declining soil fertility and low crop yields while helping to combat climate change.

There’s the Center for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency that opened just in July in Praia, Cape Verde, under the auspices of the Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS. It will help to develop renewable energy and energy efficiency markets in West Africa and will assist in policy and capacity development, quality assurance, designing financing mechanisms and implementing pilot projects with potential for regional expansion. Support is coming from the United Nations Industrial Development Organization, the governments of Austria, Cape Verde and Spain, and from Brazil through its special partnership with ECOWAS.

Of the estimated 23,000 megawatts of hydroelectric potential in the ECOWAS region, only 16 percent has been exploited. The region, which comprises 15 countries, also has huge solar energy potential; substantial wind, tidal, ocean thermal and wave energy resources; and good potential for all forms of bioenergy. Currently, 80 percent of the energy consumed for domestic purposes comes from biomass — chopped-down trees, for example — the traditional energy source for the poor. 

Five years after the idea of a green wall of trees across the Sahara Desert was planted by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, and three years after the African Union adopted it as a homegrown response to desertification, African heads of state met for the first time in June to discuss the reforestation project. Aimed at halting the desert’s advance south, the tree belt would span 11 countries, from Senegal on the Atlantic Coast to Djibouti on the Red Sea in the east and traversing Burkina Faso, Chad, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Sudan. That translates into a Great Green Wall 4,831 miles long and nine miles wide.

In addition to restoration of degraded forest lands, the project will include sustainable management of restored lands, dune fixation and management of oases and grazing. If successful, it will slow soil erosion and wind speeds, help rain to filter into the ground and boost the nutrient content of soil — a boost for agriculture.

However, lack of funding has held back the project. At the same heads-of-state meeting in June, the Global Environment Facility, a financial partnership of 178 countries, international institutions, NGOs and private entities that support national sustainable development initiatives, announced that it was putting up $119 million to get it under way. Meanwhile, the Food and Agriculture Organization, in collaboration with the African Union Commission, launched a $460 000 project to kick-start the project in Chad, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Mali and Niger.

On Sept. 23, The Network Journal, in partnership with the National Minority Business Council Inc. and Bank of New York Mellon, will present a one-day forum in New York City on the challenges of the Green economy and the opportunities it presents for small and medium-sized enterprises in Africa and the United States. The forum, titled “Africa: Strictly Business 2010,” will bring together African and U.S. experts, professionals and entrepreneurs involved in Green and clean technology industries to identify and dissect the best policies for encouraging and facilitating investment and trade in these industries; segments of these industries that offer significant investment and trade opportunities for SMEs on both sides, notably transportation, agriculture, travel and tourism, and mining and construction; and success stories in the private and nonprofit sectors involving new technology models, research and development, and innovative initiatives that make and sustain a positive impact on development.

Participating organizations include the African Scientific Institute; AngelAfrica; Association for Energy Affordability; Black Design Network; Heifer International; Partnership for African Environmental Sustainability; Patent Analysis Research Technology Systems L.L.C.; Seedco Financial; Tek Consults Group Inc.; U.S. Export Import Bank; U.S. International Trade Commission; and BNY Mellon.

Investment prospects for Green and clean-technology sectors are massive in Africa and the United States alike. In the U.S., the Green building market is expected to reach $173.5 billion by 2010, leaping from $71.1 billion currently. Commercial Green building alone is projected to grow by 18.1 percent annually over the same period, hitting $81.8 billion in 2015 from the current market value of $35.6 billion, reports Environmental Leader, publisher of energy and environment news.

Globally, a 250 percent growth is predicted in the end-use clean-tech market by 2019. A 2009 report by the Renewable Energy Policy Network shows that global revenues for solar photovoltaics (used to convert solar radiation into electricity), wind power and biofuels expanded to $115 billion in 2008 from $76 billion in 2007.

The Paris-based International Energy Agency puts the value of the clean-tech market at $1 trillion and projects that the world will need to spend $46 trillion between now and 2050 to ensure that half of all electricity comes from renewable sources.