The Road to Renewables: A tale of Two worlds

Dependable and affordable energy supplies are crucial to economic growth in both developed and developing countries — to power homes, connect communities, provide safe water and promote economic and human development.  However, the exploitation of finite resources is a catch-22; not only is it capable of harming the planet for future generations, it ultimately affects economic returns.According to the renowned Kenyan environmental political activist, Wangari Maathai, ‘the environment and the economy are really both sides of the same coin. If we cannot sustain the environment, we cannot sustain ourselves’. In the last three editions, we accentuated the dire need for a solid environmental sustainability strategy in Nigeria, ways to strategically engage Nigerians for a safer planet and how to root a sustainable energy mix in the country. This edition concludes the four-week environment series with an in-depth study of the renewable energy development strategies of three developed economies.     

About 1.2 billion people lack access to electricity while around 3 billion rely on traditional fuels like coal and wood for cooking, and often have poor ventilation in their homes. Worse still, nearly 2 million people die each year from pneumonia and chronic lung disease from using these fuels. Yet, it is estimated that global energy demand will increase by two thirds between 2001- 2030 (IEA, 2002a) with the main share coming from developing countries.

However, some countries seem to have embraced the concept of sustainable and clean energy more than others have. At the top of this list are Denmark, United Kingdom, Scotland, Germany, Sweden and Ireland. These nations have recognised that reliability on limitless natural resources such as the wind and sun ensure a brighter future for their people and businesses. 

Despite the fact that in 2009, oil and natural gas represented 36% and 22% of Denmark’s total primary energy supply respectively, the country has gradually moved towards reducing its CO2 emissions and has continuously set world records in wind production. In 2014, Denmark generated 39.1 percent of its overall electricity from the clean energy source with a goal of generating 50 percent of its power from clean sources by 2020 and 100 percent by 2050.

Similarly in 2014, wind turbines alone provided around 1,279 megawatt-hours (MWh) of electricity to the Scottish national grid, which was sufficient to supply the electrical needs of 3.96 million homes. 

Furthermore, Sweden has been reducing its fossil fuels imports since 1973 and is planning to become oil-free in the not-too-distant future. The Swedish government has already launched a multi-billion dollar programme to promote renewable energy, whose productivity in the country has risen from 33.9% in 1990 to 43.3% in 2009. In 2016, Sweden declared its aim of becoming the first fossil-fuel free nation in history.

It is important to study how these countries were able to root their energy mix whilst phasing-out fossil fuels and promoting the use of clean energy via renewables.

Taking Sweden as a model, the first thing to learn is that the switch to renewables is an investment for the future therefore, there should be sufficient funding. Sweden invested heavily in funding the phasing out of fossil fuel and the introduction of clean energy. It is important to note that the demand for energy will grow with continuous industrialisation. There is a need to secure the supply of energy such that there is no shortcoming in energy supply as demand grows, hence the need to invest in renewables. The Swedish government launched a multibillion-dollar program in 1997 to promote renewable energy and energy efficiency. This has paid-off as a good investment in the 21st century; as the need for the development of Renewable Energy is becoming more evident.

Another lesson that can be learnt from countries adopting the use of renewables is the use of regulations and policies. Developing a sufficient and effective energy mix requires the formulation of strategies, policies, and plans to ensure a smooth transition to the use of renewables/clean sources. Sweden made use of indirect taxation as a tool in enforcing the adoption of the use of renewables.  Taxes on energy are environment-related and differentiated for petrol and diesel oils. On 1 January 1996, the carbon dioxide tax on fuels increased to SEK 370 (ECU 39, 7) per tonnes of carbon dioxide. For the manufacturing industry, the Government has proposed an increase of carbon dioxide tax rate from 25 to 50% of the general rate.

Another crucial step in introducing the use of clean energy is sensitisation. Capacity building, education, training and raising awareness are very important tools in the transition to renewable energy for developing countries and the African continent as a whole. This can be seen from the developed countries that have successfully made this transition. Teaching the importance of environment and energy use in schools and universities will create more sensitive generations. 

Government support is a major factor in the transition to the use of renewables. The role of government parastatals, coordinating bodies and relevant boards or commissions cannot be over-emphasised on the road to renewables. The Swedish government set up a parliamentary energy commission, which reviewed energy supply and examined the energy programs. This commission also set up necessary legislation and regulations to guide the transition. Moreover, the Swedish National Board for Industrial and Technical development (NUTEK) played an active role in this transition. Hence, making it glaring that the involvement of government is highly essential in the quest to move from traditional fuels to cleaner energy.

Finally, Technology plays a key role in the journey to the adoption of renewable sources of energy. It is important to adopt relevant technologies available in order to ensure that these renewable sources of energy are sustainable, cost effective and labour effective.

If developed countries have made this much progress in leading the clean energy mix, it is only smart for developing countries to emulate some of the transition strategies and practices. It will take a combination of local and international approaches for the world to attain sustainable, clean, and modern energy for all by 2030. 

According to UN Chronicle, access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy is integral to global development in the 21st century. Although, not all the resources needed to meet global energy needs are yet available, the goal is achievable if Governments can work together (this includes knowledge transfer), and communities and individuals are offered the right incentives and necessary means. 


We can learn a lot about clean energy from Scandinavian nations 

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