In recent years, there has been renewed interest in biomass energy in Africa, primarily due to growing environmental crisis, energy security concerns and rapid increase in fossil fuel prices. Africa’s convertible currency earnings are very low due to poor world market prices and decreased volumes of its commodity exports. Consequently, it is estimated that, petroleum imports as a percentage of export earnings has doubled for a number of African countries.
The second important development that has increased interest in renewable energy in Africa is the recurrent crises faced by most power utilities in the region. For example, countries like Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria and Tanzania are facing unprecedented power rationing which are adversely affecting their economies.
Biomass energy in Africa is especially relevant for Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) where over 80 percent of the population relies upon wood, crop and animal residues for meeting their household needs mainly cooking by direct combustion.
In the case of poor economies, such as Ethiopia, quality of life and energy consumption are tidily conjoined. With proper sourcing strategies, biomass can supply green and cleaner renewable energy for wider human, industrial and transportation services in Africa.
Large-scale biomass utilization encompasses direct combustion for process heat, ethanol production, gasification, cogeneration, biogas production and briquetting/pelleting. Cogeneration using bagasse as feedstock to produce both process heat and electricity is a well-established technology in Africa, for example in Mauritius. The best-known large-scale biomass energy systems with sound economic track records are cogeneration using biomass as fuel stock and the production of ethanol as a substitute for petroleum fuel.
Conscious of this dependence, the World Bank in 2010 launched the Biomass Energy Initiative for Africa (BEIA). This, and eight other local initiatives, is funded under the Africa Renewable Energy Access Program (AFREA) supported by a US$28.75 million contribution from the Netherlands in 2008 under the Energy Sector Management Assistance Program’s (ESMAP) Clean Energy Investment Framework (CEIF) Multi-donor Trust Fund.
Solar PV technologies, Solar Thermal Technologies have been disseminated in Africa as Solar PV Panels for electricity production, solar water heaters and solar cookers. Wind energy technology has huge potential in South Africa. In sub-Saharan Africa, South Africa has been named as the country with the highest wind potential in the region. For example, wind speeds of 7.29–9.70 m/s have been recorded around Cape Point and Cape Alguhas. It is bit difficult to specify a general mean annual wind speed for South Africa due to great variations within the country.