Sirri Caro Nfornah: Boosting Renewable Energy For A Better Business Environment In Cameroon

Cameroon is a growing economy with rapidly increasing electricity demands, particularly in the industrial sector. The utility is currently grappling with a power deficit, and energy efficiency measures are becoming critical for meeting Cameroon’s electricity demand in short to medium term. Cameroon’s development objectives, under the programme Vision 2035, contemplates significant investments in the energy sector including renewable energy. The policy goals of the government are to ensure energy independence through increased production and distribution of electricity (through the development of Cameroon’s hydropower potential), of oil and gas and to contribute to economic development. According to Basil Atangana Kouna, Cameroon’s Minister of Water and Energy Resources, “Energy supply has been the main hurdle in Cameroon’s path towards economic growth.”

According to the Electricity Sector Regulation Agency (ARSEL), Cameroon has significant considerable hydroelectric resources, renewable energies and small hydrocarbons. Apart from oil, Cameroon has natural gas reserves currently estimated at about 186 billion m³ as well as has the second hydroelectric potential in Sub-Saharan Africa after the democratic Republic of Congo (19.7 GW fair technical potential for energy production of 115 TWh/year). In terms of solar energy, Cameroon has a rich and handy potential, especially in the country’s northern part.

The organization, Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP) in a 2012 Policy Database reported that, 70% to 80% of Cameroon’s power is derived from hydro-power sources, with the remainder from conventional thermal sources. Cameroon’s first independent power producing agreement (IPP) will add 216 MW in power generation and trigger the development of Cameroon’s gas reserves, as yet unexploited. Also, Cameroon will further increase its generation capacity when the new Lom Pangar plant becomes fully operational. Moreover, the wind potential of Cameroon is significant and economically exploitable, mainly in the regions of western Cameroon and the Adamawa region. Cameroon thus stands to gain much from exploiting additional resources for electricity supply, and promoting a market-oriented energy policy.

Despite the country’s abundant resource potential and availability of conventional (oil and gas) and renewable (hydro and solar) resources, energy access rate is very low, standing at only 18% in 2013. According to the World Bank Investment Climate Assessment, limited access to reliable electricity is among the 5 top obstacles to doing business in Cameroon. It is estimated that the lack of reliable energy services is costing Cameroon close to 2% of the gross domestic product growth.

Although they are prescribed by the regulations in force, renewable energies are almost in-existent in Cameroon. Law No 2011/022 of 14 December 2011 governing the electricity sector in Part IV spells out general goals for promoting renewable energy and energy efficiency, and for the use of renewables within the context of expanding rural electrification. The law also states that the State will ensure the promotion and development of renewable energy through establishing regulation for conditions and mechanisms for research, development, production of equipment and project financing. Also, in its title IV, Chapter I, Law No 98/022 of 24 December 1998 governing the electricity sector, the Electricity Sector Regulatory Agency (ARSEL) and the Rural Electrification Agency (REA) are in charge of the promotion and the follow-up of the use of the primary sources of energy, in particular renewable sources.

According to REEEP in the same report quoted above, the key constraints facing the electricity sector relate to the narrow geographic space and relative obsolescence of the transmission and distribution networks. Consequently, there is significant unmet solvent demand. This situation is exacerbated by the fact that the country’s three main transmission grids are completely isolated from one another and no exchange of available surpluses can be made between the grids.

Cameroon’s Ministry of Water Resources and Energy (MINEE) through ARSEL requested the formulation of a National Policy, Strategy and Action Plan for the development of Energy Efficiency Policy in the country which would be developed by 2030 yet it seems the formulation and implementation of the long-term Energy Sector Development Plan (PDSE 2030) is lagging.

Renewables are often identified as too costly, mainly due to high investment costs. The renewable sector unfortunately lacks competent human resources to plan, design, install, monitor and maintain energy systems — but demand for this expertise is growing. Addressing the human resource issue is a key point for attaining the objectives.

In order to meet the renewable energy and energy efficiency targets, effective leadership is also a key issue for the attainment of the targets within Cameroon. At national and regional levels, political authorities should be involved and support the action. There is also need for these leaders and actor to be corrupt free. This would lead to the generation of champions. It is also important to promote private investments in the electricity sector, in order for the population to benefit from a competitive service through innovation and efficient management of the available resources.

Moreover, politicians and government leadership of the country have to be aware of the opportunities that exist in the use of Renewable Energy as an alternative source of energy, and then put policies in place to advance the sector.

A renewable energy policy is being prepared, with policy goals to increase the share of renewables in power and heat generation, and to involve private capital in the delivery of energy but it has to be an articulate energy policy which is vital in leading the country towards effective utilisation of its resources.  This policy will favour investments in the corporate and industrial sector to invest.

The need for scaling-up investments in small- to medium- sized renewable energy and energy efficiency projects in Cameroon remains urgent. In spite of the country’s endowment of vast renewable energy resources, much of the population still suffers from limited access to affordable and reliable modern energy services.

The current state of affairs in the Cameroonian energy sector should be an eye-opener for the country to raise awareness and educate key stakeholders to create and develop an enabling environment for rapid renewable energy market development.

Mrs. Sirri Caro Nfornah is a diplomat by training currently at the Ministry of External Relations, Cameroon. She also doubles as the Public Relations Officer for the Central African Centre for Libertarian Thought and Action, (CACLiTA), Cameroon.