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‘REFiTs have potential to transform energy systems and societies in profound and tangible ways’

Ansgar Kiene

Exclusive interview with Ansgar Kiene, Director Africa Office, World Future Council Foundation and Secretary General, African Renewable Energy Alliance.  He is a speaker at the upcoming EAPIC in Nairobi in September.

You will address EAPIC as part of the session on “Shaping East Africa’s energy future through robust regulation”, can you give us a sneak preview of your presentation?
The World Future Council partnering with the Heinrich Böll Foundation recently published the study “POWERING AFRICA THROUGH FEED-IN TARIFFS – Advancing renewable energy to meet the continent‘s electricity needs”. This comprehensive Renewable Energy FiT (REFiT) policy guide for African decision makers, civil society and the private sector provides an in-depth analysis of existing and drafted REFiT policies in 13 African countries.

The case studies examine the policy drivers and socio-economic effects of REFiTs and present and analyse both supportive and obstructive factors for successful policy implementation.

There’s no need to reinvent the wheel while we can learn a great deal from countries’ experiences of designing and implementing their version of a REFiT policy.

What do you regard as the biggest challenge for the energy future of this region?
Clearly the discovery and beginning exploitation of fossil fuels in East African countries poses a challenge to the pathway of sustainable development of each nation. The enabling environment for renewable energy production needs to stay the focus of the policy makers. Only by attractive RE frameworks and properly implemented legislation we’ll be able to generate the electricity our societies and businesses need to thrive. As the majority of renewable energy technologies are capital intensive (literally you pay for all energy upfront) a long-term view and strategy needs to be followed. Any sign by a Government to switch towards favouring fossils instead of renewables will deter potential investors.

Is the World Future Council involved in projects in this region? 
Can you expand on this, accomplishments etc.
Since its foundation in 2007 the World Future Council (WFC) has been actively engaging with Parliaments, Regulators and Ministries across the African continent in policy workshops focussing on renewable energy legislation. Our capacity building programme further offers policy makers on online REFiT drafting tool at www.futurepolicy.org

We definitely can say that the WFC had a positive influence in the consciousness of decision makers and the development of future just energy policies in Africa.  

What is your vision for the industry?
A decentralized approach that allows for alternative ownership and governance models and that provides the opportunity to empower communities and to refresh local democracy and self-governance. As many currently passive energy consumers becoming active electricity producers.

What surprises you about the energy industry?
That not more players have taken up the opportunity to provide the currently underserved populations with a reliable and affordable energy services based on sustainable, renewable energy. You’d be astonished how much the majority of deprived citizens spend on energy by means of paraffin, kerosene, candles, batteries, etc. Not to mention their expenses for fuel-wood and charcoal.  650 Mill. Africans without access to electricity, these are 650 Mill. potential customers.  

What will be your message at EAPIC in September?

  • REFiTs have potential to transform energy systems and societies in profound and tangible ways
  • Tailored to local context, REFiTs can:
    • Increase overall energy production both on and off-grid
    • Boost economic development
    • Improve access to clean energy for all
    • Avoid green house gas emissions and other problems related to unsustainable development

Anything you would like to add?
It’s in the very nature of fossil fuels, that these energy resources are finite. I’d like to share a quote of a forward thinker of its time, Thomas Edison.

“We are like tenant farmers chopping down the fence around our house for fuel when we should be using Natures inexhaustible sources of energy — sun, wind and tide. I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.”  And guess when he phrased these sentences? Already back in 1920!