By Miguel Artacho
Although The Gambia is actively exploring offshore areas to tap into hydrocarbons potential and aims to position itself as one of the new oil producing countries in the MSGBC Basin; by no means is fossil fuel development the only area in which the Gambian authorities are looking to boost the dynamism of the country´s energy sector. A number of ambitious projects are also underway by utilising renewable energy technologies. Today, the main sources of energy in The Gambia are primarily firewood, electricity, petroleum imports, and Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG). But a number of renewable energy initiatives are in the works thanks to ongoing funding from individual countries as well as by multilateral institutions like the European Investment Bank (EIB). Thus, The Gambia is becoming increasingly well positioned to help diversify its energy mix by incorporating new sources of renewable energy.
The Vice President Dr Isatou Touray presided over the inauguration of a €2.7 million project named Renewable Energy Potentials in The Gambia on September 6, 2021. The initiative is being funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). It is a four-year project that will be implemented on the ground by the Ministry of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology as well as their academic partner the University of The Gambia (UTG).
Following the inauguration, Vice President Dr Isatou Touray stated that: “The Gambia contributes a very insignificant amount of CO2 emissions that cause climate change. Therefore, reducing the impact of climate change through this project is a massive opportunity that The Gambia cannot afford to miss.” Furthermore, the Vice President emphasised that: “This inauguration would serve as a step in the right direction of implementing The Gambia´s Nationally-Determined Contributions (NDC´s).” These NDC´s were undertaken as part of The Gambia´s commitments stemming from the 21st Conference of Parties (COP 21) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) which took place in Paris, France, during 2015.
The Gambia has been firmly committed to several climate change mitigation initiatives, in spite of not being a major polluter in contrast to some of the world´s larger and far more industrialised economies, which are responsible for a much greater share of global CO2 emissions. Dr Isatou Touray noted that: “The world is moving towards a green economy and The Gambia will surely not be left behind in that endeavor. The government and The Gambia business sector increasingly understand that there is no tradeoff between a healthy environment and a healthy economy. We can have both at the same time because green business is good business.”
The Minister of Environment, Climate Change and Natural Resources, Lamin B Dibba, equally emphasised the importance of the REPGam project, and noted that “what the project intends to achieve, would not only enable The Gambia to achieve its national target, but also to achieve multilateral environment agreements that The Gambia has signed.” The country is committed to overcoming the numerous challenges it faces in terms of the environment and the agricultural sector, an essential component of the national economy by employing the strength of research, science, technology and innovation.
Adding some concrete technical details about the REPGam project, the Deputy Permanent Secretary of Ministry of Higher Education Dr Yusupha Touray said: “The project would provide timely availability of clean and affordable electricity in 23 different communities in The Gambia, thereby enhancing those communities’ lives and livelihoods.” An equally important aspect of this project is that of developing local content and fostering capacity building among the youth of The Gambia. It will help train an estimated 210 young workers throughout various communities around the country in a valuable skill-set which is the installation, maintenance and franchising of photovoltaic systems. The development of photovoltaic energy is a top priority for Gambian authorities and the use of this renewable energy resource is increasing throughout the country for domestic, industrial, and commercial use.
A report by the Department of Commerce of The United States notes that The Gambia´s electricity prices are among the highest in the world, which makes the utilisation of alternative energy sources such as biodiesel, steam, solar and wind increasingly attractive. The source notes that both the government and The Gambia´s national utility company (NAWEC), a state-owned enterprise, have recognised high levels of demand for power and weaknesses in the transmission and distribution network as challenges that need to be addressed in order for the country´s power sector to be more reliable and competitive in the near future.
Rural electrification and ending energy poverty are major challenges not just for The Gambia but throughout many emerging markets in sub-Saharan Africa. In March of 2019, the country took an important step in promoting the renewable energy sector. This was part of a €142 million initiative to harness solar power and supply clean energy across the country, backed by the European Investment Bank, the World Bank, and the European Union.
Through the EIB project, The Gambia is set to become the first country in the world to ensure that as many as 1,100 rural schools and health centres will benefit from having a reliable energy supply by using solar and battery pack technology. It notes that: “Once operational the scheme will increase energy supply in The Gambia by one fifth and transform electricity access in rural communities through construction of a new photovoltaic plant in Jambur, near Banjul. The project will increase access to energy, ensure that education and health services benefit from reliable power and help to address current power shortages in the country.”
Over the past decade the European Investment Bank has provided over €6.4 billion for energy investment across sub-Saharan Africa, and The Gambia is well positioned to continue attracting investment in renewable energy projects. One of the main reasons that The Gambia stands to benefit from additional funding for renewable energy projects is because of several factors. The country has a favorable investment climate, and is a member of Ecowas, thus facilitating intra-regional trade and cooperation with other sub-Saharan African countries.
In addition, in April of 2019, The Gambia became one of the latest countries to ratify the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AFCTFTA). The Gambia´s decision to join the AFCFTA means the continent-wide free trade agreement has surpassed an important milestone and now obtained the minimum number of ratifications to enter effect. If all signatories eventually ratify the deal, the AFCFTA will include 55 African states with combined gross domestic product of nearly US$ 3 trillion.