The paradox in the African energy sector has been of increasing concern to stakeholders at various levels. Africa is energy-resources rich yet energy poor. Statistics of energy supply and utilization may best describe the conditions of energy access on the continent. Africa represents 16 percent of the world’s population but it only accounts for about 3 percent of the global energy use. According to the World Energy Outlook, “Sub-Saharan Africa has now become the most electricity poor region in the world in terms of the total number of people (surpassing Asia) as well as the share of its overall population.”
The International Energy Agency (IEA) further explained that 80 percent of the 1.1 billion people without access to electricity and modern energy services live in the rural areas of sub-Saharan Africa and developing countries in Asia. These startling figures depict the energy challenges in Africa which is a major barrier to the development of African countries.
Thankfully, a number of initiatives at global, regional, and national levels have been active in improving energy conditions on the continent. However, most of the supports programs have been focused on project implementation, whereas, there is also a huge knowledge gap that must be filled through capacity development if renewable energy projects on the continent must be sustainable.
The role of capacity building in achieving the universal access to modern energy cannot be overemphasized. There has been appreciable improvement on the sustainability of renewable energy projects with the increasing level of community engagement through short-term trainings organized for members of benefitting communities. Beyond that, there is need to strategically develop sustainable energy experts with updated competences to speed up sustainable energy development in Africa.
A number of international organizations actively promoting renewable energy in Africa have emphasized this need. One of the outcomes of the “Higher Education for the Renewable Energy Sector in Africa” workshop organized by the Africa-EU Renewable Energy Cooperation Programme (RECP) in 2014 is the strong need to intensify renewable energy activities in Africa by training a new generation of energy professionals and also strengthening African research institutions. Similarly, the Africa-EU Energy Partnership’s (AEEP) second stakeholders’ forum hosted by the Politecnico di Milano in 2016 also highlighted the need for further focus on capacity development in Africa and technology transfer to ensure benefits from the job opportunities and skills development that accompany the growing renewable and more efficient energy sector.
There is need to develop an organized knowledge base in developing countries by building a well-equipped trans-disciplinary workforce that will be able to reproduce, build on and put their knowledge through training, research and project development. Meeting this need was the thrust of Enlarged Network in Education and Research for Growing Impact of Sustainable Energy engineering on local development (ENERGISE) Project, which was funded by the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP)-European Union (EU) Cooperation Programme in Higher Education (EDULINK). The ENERGISE project was in line with EDULINK’s global objective of fostering capacity building and regional integration in the field of higher education through institutional networking.
In meeting its objectives, the ENERGISE project developed the capacities of partnering institutions to deliver innovative and labor-driven energy engineering education programs. This is in view of increasing “the number, quality and skills of specialized energy engineers who can act as employees or entrepreneurs within the complex challenge of sustainable access to energy” in East Africa. The project sought to develop a new generation of sustainable energy engineers who “would be able to promote appropriate technologies, including long term socio-economic and environmental perspectives” in the region. The Politecnico di Milano (Italy) under the UNESCO Chair on Energy for Development partnered with Jimma University (Ethiopia), Technical University of Kenya (Kenya), Technical University of Mombasa (Kenya) and Dar Es Salaam Institute of Technology (Tanzania) to implement the project. The choice of these countries was made based on their low rate of energy access: Ethiopia (15 percent), Kenya (15 percent) and Tanzania (11 percent). The project delivered intensive training sessions on capacity building on new teaching methodology and on distributed energy systems (DESs) which are based on renewable energies.
DESs are considered viable energy solutions for rural communities where most of the East African Population resides. The impact of DESs in improving sustainable energy conditions especially in off-grid rural communities around the globe has been impressive. The Paris-based Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21) stated that distributed renewable energy systems have helped provide electricity access for an estimated 100 million people in 26 million households around the globe.
The increasing impacts of DESs likely explains the reason UNESCO, UNIDO, World Bank among other international organizations emphasized the need to increase the number and level of specialized energy engineers to develop such energy systems. The energy engineers are such that will build expertise in design, implementation, monitoring and maintenance of appropriate and sustainable energy solutions that can be adapted for rural energy applications. The ENERGISE project is a response to this global need with focus on East Africa.
The ENERGISE project consortium took a holistic and procedural approach in achieving the objectives of the project. A comprehensive assessment of the current status of energy engineering was conducted in the partner institutions in Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania. The assessment was carried out in view of identifying the gaps and needs in the delivery of quality energy engineering education program in the region and to avoid duplication of efforts. The assessment was carried out through dispensing questionnaires to 137 members of staff and 274 students of the partnering institutions, including 58 external stakeholders. Findings from the assessment revealed that there was a low level of information about energy and low satisfaction on energy conditions in the region. From the study, the project consortium also understood the mandatory need to improve the linkages between the academia, public, civil and private sectors in order to develop high-quality and market-driven curricula in energy engineering.
The project also upgraded the competence of the faculty members and developed the capacities of non-teaching staff of the partnering institutions. Trainings on various topics and skill acquisition programs that were identified for improving the quality of deliveries were organized for 114 senior, 61 technical and 30 junior members of staff of the institutions. At the end of the 42-month period, the project developed five syllabi in three countries and a new labor-driven master of science (MSc) degree program in Sustainable Energy Engineering, which covers engineering and economic perspectives of sustainable energy. The curriculum developed emphasizes development of local and innovative technologies for the uptake of renewable energies in sustainable manner. The master’s degree program is set to be piloted at the Jimmy University in Ethiopia.
The EDULINK-sponsored project developed an e-collaborative platform for information dissemination on sustainable energy projects, their results and impacts. The platform was developed in view of fostering an integrated network of higher education institutions that will be open for the participation and benefit of public and private stakeholders. The platform fosters sharing of administrative documents, peer reviews and also provides an e-learning area for PowerPoint presentations and other resources. It also serves as a portal for forum communication, such as web-seminars, online meetings, conferences, surveys among other communications on sustainable energy.
As its fifth objective, a one-week South-South knowledge Transfer workshop was organized in Arusha, Tanzania. At the workshop, the project consortium shared their experience and lessons learnt on the implementation of the ENERGISE project. The workshop also provided opportunity to share the impacts of the ENERGISE project with management staff and faculty members from other higher institutions, non-governmental organizations, and other participants at the workshop.