From the two reports cited above, it can be seen that Africa alone had approximately 40% of those living in darkness in the world. Even though this report is 7 years old, there may be little change as regards the proportion of Africans living in the dark today because in most of these African countries, the grid extension program has been very slow.
In Cameroon for instance, less than 17% of the rural population has access to electricity (USAID, 2019) despite the fact that it has the second largest hydropower potential in Africa. There is persistent power outages throughout the country especially in the dry seasons when water levels are low. About 90% of population living in these non electrified rural areas use biomass (firewood) for cooking, heating and lighting meanwhile others use kerosene lamps.
The total energy production of Cameroon in 2016 stood at 8108 GWh with 47% coming from hydro electricity alone. Other sources include thermal and fossil fuels.
- Cameroon has a population of above 24 million people and 45% of these people live in rural areas. These rural areas are organized in small villages mostly located in geographically difficult topography that makes it very expensive for grid extension in terms of distribution infrastructures. In most cases, the terminus of the grid line maybe too far from the village.
- The initial demand in most of these villages is usually very small and the national grid company may find it not cost effective.
On the other hand, these villages are naturally endowed with unlimited renewable energy resources on the spot which include abundant rivers, streams, wind and the sun that could constitute reliable sources of electricity for these remote communities. Law N ° 2011/022 of 14 December 2011 of Cameroon governing the electricity sector in its Article 29 provides for conditions to own private power production units but there is still a very timid entry of private investors in the energy sector, which therefore calls for more awareness from government to lure these partners into synergy to meet up with the demand.
The demand for electricity in Cameroon is on a severe rise to power homes and the industries and is expected to continue growing rapidly. To greatly alleviate this energy deficit, these villages needs to be assisted to develop their local energy production units while the national grid is decongested to cover mostly metropolitan/industrial areas. The government is taking steps to increase its energy market via the creation of the Rural Electrification Board and in the long term rural electrification master plan, energy production is expected to step up via the development of diesel and hydro mini-grids.
Most of the villages of these rural areas have been naturally endowed with renewable energy resources like the sun, wind and small streams which can be used to harness their energy on the spot. The more stakeholders fold their arms and see this poor population continue to live in the dark, the more villagers rely heavily on biomass -- cutting down trees in the forest to collect wood and produce charcoal for cooking and heating, kerosene lamps used to provide lighting, petrol and diesel will be used to power standby generators.
We cannot sit and watch these practices when at the same time we intend to mitigate the green gas effect which is causing global warming (climate change mitigation). Renewable energy using indigenous resources like those listed above can play a catalyst role in this energy revolution. Reference is made here to small-scale hydroelectricity systems, solar systems, and wind power. This will lead to bringing the sources of energy back to the community level- a participatory approach to energy generation which gives local communities greater autonomy over the infrastructure.
Many of the people who lack access to electricity in Cameroon live in these villages with sufficient sunshine, abundant streams and rivers that flow throughout the year and in most cases have hills that provide the necessary gravity to rotate a micro hydro turbine.
Creation of community micro hydro power stations
These are micro power stations that have maximum capacity of up to 100 kW and are easily managed by the community. Those communities, which are isolated or found far off the national grid, can be powered by these independent power units which involve harnessing small water sources usually in hills that are flowing under the natural influence of gravity with minimum civil construction infrastructure. The water is tunneled through a pipeline (penstock) to rotate a turbine connected to a generator to produce electricity. The penstock builds up pressure from the water that has traveled downwards from a hill. The electricity is then sent to the village community for household consumption or sold to the national grid. The construction of a community micro hydro project requires community mobilization especially at the civil phase. The local community needs to be well aware on the importance of the scheme.
These are small hydro power plants of few watts up to 5 kW which can be used to charge DC batteries at the community level. These batteries are later used with inverters to obtain AC current which is used to power domestic appliances.
The main difficulty encountered in most cases in running micro hydro systems is the lack of a ready supply of affordable turbine parts and the lack of domestic manufacturing capacity. The presence of local technical workshops that can fabricate simple components needed to run the system is vital for the sustainability of the project. Most of the remote micro hydro systems in Africa have been closed down because of lack of spare parts for its components. Lack of local fabrication workshops poses a great challenge for rural electrification.
Atud Jonathan Asaah is a multi talented Cameroonian who holds a Bachelor of science degree in accounting and a master of business administration in Accounting and finance from the University of Buea in Cameroon. He has eleven years experience as an accountant in a banking environment. He has a lot of passion for engineering and has successfully carried out a series of experiments in the field of engineering, especially electronics and electrical engineering, the most successful being the construction of a 15 kW micro hydro system to power his village.
Mr. Assah is the founder of RURAL SOLUTIONS, a social group dedicated to using renewable energy to light rural communities. His role as a social media renewable energy activist has earned him recognition from similar groups in other countries currently working in synergy to fight global greenhouse gas emissions.