WEST AFRICA: Regional centre for renewable energy

A regional centre to help develop renewable energy and promote workforce development in the 15 countries of the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS , has opened in Praia, the capital of Cape Verde.

Supported by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization, UNIDO and Austria, Cape Verde and Spain, the Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency, or ECREEE, was launched on 6 July.

The centre will research renewable energy, develop renewable energy and energy efficiency markets in West Africa, formulate policy, build capacity and quality assurance mechanisms, and implement demonstration projects with potential for regional scaling up.

ECREEE will also provide consultancy services to governments and companies, promote knowledge and technology transfer between companies, universities and governments, run training programmes to help set up technologies and assist the private sector to invest in renewable energy.

It will become the main implementing agency of a US$150 million UNIDO programme that will focus on the energy access agenda and energy efficiency in key sectors of the West African economy including renewable energy sources like small hydro, biomass gasification, wind energy, solar thermal and photovoltaic energy that can be used to develop small industries, particularly in rural areas, that contribute to growth and poverty reduction.

Speaking at the opening ceremony Ambassador James Victor Gbeho, President of the ECOWAS Commission, said the centre would help the region - which ranks among the lowest in access to modern electricity services - tap into its vast renewable energy resources to meet development objectives.

The centre will also help the region meet the Millennium Development Goals. Developing countries are expected to ensure energy access to at least half of their populations, and use it to stimulate economic development and reduce poverty

Mamadou Goita, special adviser to the director-general of the Mali-based Rural Economy Institute, welcomed the centre and told University World News "the region's strategic location increases the importance of its renewable energy potential".

It is estimated that a total of 23,000 megawatts of large and small hydroelectric potential is concentrated in five ECOWAS member states, of which only 16% has been exploited. Traditional biomass is the main source of energy for the poor majority and accounts for 80% of total energy consumed for domestic purposes.

"Investing in potential renewable energy systems such as wind, tidal, ocean thermal and solar and wave energy, and introducing energy efficient technologies and services, will support the economic growth prospects for the more than 262 million inhabitants of ECOWAS countries and contribute to the region's economic and social development as well as poverty reduction - without harming the environment," Goita said.

In another development the Abuja Declaration 2010, issued at the 7th Summit of the Eight Developing Countries (D-8) held in Abuja, Nigeria, from 4-8 July, called for the role of energy in economic growth and development to be promoted through enhanced collaboration on capacity -building, technology transfer, exploration of new energy sources, development of alternative fuels and peaceful uses of nuclear energy.