Cape Verde’s Journey to 100% Renewable Energy

Home to a population of 0.5m people, we take a look at Cape Verde's renewable energy drive as it leads the way in the region.

The West African island of Cape Verde, sits 600km west off the coast of Senegal and is home to a population of 0.5 million. Nowhere near as large as Niger’s 20.67 million or Sierra Leone’s 7.3 million, mainland West African countries, nonetheless, can learn a thing or two from Cape Verde when it comes to renewable energy. In fact, Cape Verde, may just well be on its way to achieving its national objectives of the SE4All (Sustainable Energy For All) Action Agenda.

Over 90% of the population have access to electricity, whilst over 70% have access to clean cooking fuels such as Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG); a co-product of natural gas and crude oil production that usually consists of a mixture of propane and butane for standard heating and cooking purposes.

Increasing access to electricity on the island has also benefited the economy in more ways than one, improving the health and lifestyle of individuals on the island.

A unique combination of renewable energy resources

Cape Verde has a variety of sources of renewable energy. Should the country achieve its 100% universal access to electricity goal through the use of renewable energy, it would be the first to do so in Africa using a diverse mix of resources; with the exception of hydropower, which the island lacks (hydropower accounts for a majority of power generation on mainland Africa).

Cape Verde instead has options like wind resources, solar potential, geothermal, and marine energy comparable to other countries on mainland Africa.

According to the 2014 ECOWAS Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Status Report, as of early 2014, out of the total of 27MW of wind power installed in ECOWAS member states, 25.5MW wind capacity was recorded from the Cabeolica Wind Farm in Cape Verde which was inaugurated in 2011. Set across four islands of the Cape Verde archipelago, the wind farm has led the way in wind power generation in Africa.

Cape Verde is also a regional leader in solar PV (photovoltaic) projects, with two solar farms totalling 6.4MW compared to Ghana’s 1.9MW and Nigeria’s.

As part of their 100% renewable energy goal, the country aims for every household to have solar home systems by 2020. The country also aims to achieve 100% access to sustainable cooking by doing things such as encouraging the use of Butane Gas and the universalisation of improved cooking stoves to replace the fossil fuel use that still occurs on the island.

A rather distinctive way Cape Verde can also achieve its national objectives with Renewable Energy is through the potential of the island’s desalination systems. Desalination is a process that separates the salts and minerals from a substance. Saltwater desalination systems are an alternative water supply essentially taking advantage of the abundant seawater access off the coast of the island. Saltwater is desalinated to produce water suitable for human consumption or irrigation.

In the case of Cape Verde, the excess freshwater produced can be used to additionally produce electricity.

The island also has the potential for ocean thermal energy conversion; which uses the difference between warm surface water and cold, deep ocean water to produce electricity, as well as, the additional potential for geothermal power generation due to the fact that Cape Verde is a volcanic archipelago.

Overcoming the challenges

There are three main areas that have posed a challenge not only in Cape Verde, but also in other West African countries and these are energy efficiency, investments in the sector, and the ability to store energy for long-term future use.

Cape Verde’s challenges have mainly consisted of capacity for storage and energy efficiency. If Cape Verde adopts the desalination systems, the country would have to assign a group of freshwater reservoirs for the containment of excess freshwater to contribute to the electricity supply of the country. The country would also have to power the desalination systems since they require electricity to run.

However, the enormous advantage of having excess wind power from wind farms can contribute to the supply of electricity for the desalination systems on the island. With the introduction of micro-grids, for smaller communities like remote and rural areas, the possibility to store energy has also become a likelihood and in turn a benefit for the island. Some micro-grids can also disconnect from the main national grid when storms have damaged the national grid.

Energy efficiency is the goal to reduce the amount of energy required to provide products and services. Essentially, using less energy to provide the same amount of energy. To counter their problem, Cape Verde’s Energy Efficiency strategy (included in policy) aims to reduce grid losses, improve grid management, and improve public lighting efficiency; which will be done through the promotion of energy efficient buildings, promoting energy efficiency in appliances and equipment, and promoting energy efficiency for heavy consumers.

Lessons from Cape Verde

Though the island’s small population lends to it reaching its renewable energy goals faster than it’s mainland neighbours, the lessons learned along the way can serve as a blueprint for other countries in the region with similar goals.

Full dependence on renewable energy contributes to universal access to electricity in the community which is good for the economy, especially at local level. As renewable energy becomes more and more affordable, it becomes easier to install on a smaller scale and can therefore benefit local hospitals when it comes to lighting, or for irrigation systems in rural areas, for example.

Additionally, promoting and enabling renewable energies to compete with the use of fossil fuels in the economy, will rid the want and need to rely on the very same fossil fuels that bring a health risk to many.

In conclusion, Africa as a whole has an abundant pot of resources when it comes to renewable energy. The continent has nearly 500GW of generation potential in hydro, geothermal and wind power alone; as well as 11TW (terawatts) of solar power energy. Most of which is completely untapped.

The continent is a basket of renewable energy resources and a combination of all of them suited to the various needs of all countries, can catapult the continent’s development beyond belief; as Cape Verde has proven, there is no single energy solution.