Renewable energies in West Africa facing the technological and economic challenge
A successful energy transition through renewable energy remains a major challenge in West Africa because of the technological and economic constraints in the region. The difficulties are due to the dysfunction or even the failure of the “technology transfer mechanism” and the inability of States to meet their technological needs in the sector.
What is the purpose of this mechanism? Why is it struggling to meet its goal?
The objective of the technology transfer mechanism
Under the article 4.5 of the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and articles 9, 10 and 11 of the Paris Agreement at COP21, the Parties must encourage the transfer of environmentally sound technologies and know-how to developing countries. In this process, other Parties and organizations in a position to do so can also help facilitate the transfer of these technologies.
The objective of this mechanism is to help developed and least developed states to build their capacity for climate change mitigation and adaptation and the reduction of GHG emissions. The mechanism is part of an international cooperation between states and is included in the “Clean Development Mechanisms” (CDM) promoted by the 2005 Kyoto Protocol.
The imperfection of technology transfer mechanism
In practice, the technology transfer mechanism was intended to help States like those in West Africa to have the technologies enabling them to develop their energy growth with sustainable resources that do not emit carbon or GHGs. If the mechanism has already proven itself in countries like China with the deployment and development of photovoltaic and wind panel technologies, in Africa the situation is still very difficult due to the industrial backwardness of the continent. This situation keeps the region in a form of technological precariousness which deeply hinders the popularization of renewable energies. This means that the costs of the technologies are still very high for the energy sector industries which operate in a vulnerable economy.
The main difficulty with this mechanism is that the texts do not clearly define the nature of the transfer. It is difficult to know whether this transfer of knowledge or technology should be free or paid thanks to the training partnerships between developed and least developed countries. In addition, in developed countries, companies specializing in the field of these technologies are reluctant to share their know-how to preserve their patent and their competitiveness for economic purposes. To compensate for this failure of the technology transfer mechanisms, the States therefore are obliged to finance it themselves, something which is difficult to achieve.
Economic and financial constraints
Without international technological and financial assistance, these states must invest in the acquisition of technologies. A personal investment which they consider as “unfair” and believe that the developed countries, primarily responsible for the current climatic conditions must share in the technological costs of their energy transition.
In addition, population growth in these states creates significant social and economic issues. States must make these concerns their top priority even if they have a direct impact on the environment. Having considerable fossil resources with cheaper technologies, these states prefer to meet the energy needs of their population through these energies instead of investing in renewable technologies that are too costly for their budgets. Therefore, the primary economic constraints of their population take precedence over environmental and energy considerations.
Paris Agreement, United Nations, 2015.
Commission de la CEDEAO, Politique d’efficacité énergétique de la CEDEAO, Centre pour les Énergies Renouvelables et l’Efficacité Énergétique de la CEDEAO (CEREEC), 2015.
Commission de la CEDEAO, Politique d’énergies renouvelables de la CEDEAO, Centre pour les Énergies Renouvelables et l’Efficacité Énergétique de la CEDEAO (CEREEC), 2015.
IRENA, Planification et perspectives pour les énergies renouvelables : Afrique de l’Ouest, 2018.