Wednesday, 23 December 2015



Volume 4, Issue 3, July-December 2015


  • Chair's Foreword
  • Renewable Energy in Africa
  • Affiliations
  • Earth Science Book Review
  • Earth Science Events
  • References and Selected reading

Chair's Foreword*

 Welcome to the eighteenth issue of the Society of African Earth Scientists (SAES) newsletter.
   In this  issue we celebrate four years of the existence of Society of African Earth Scientists (since November 2011). In that time the Society trustees board has grown to five, representing north Africa (Egypt), Southern Africa (South Africa), West Africa (Nigeria) and African Diaspora (Guyana); whilst our facebook following has  grown  to over 300 members, gained predominantly from those who have requested to join rather than being added - as  happened with the first few dozens of members. There are also a number of members, who are not on Facebook, but receive notice of current newsletters via email. In that time also, SAES has delivered soil conservation and solar 

 energy workshops both in the UK and Africa (Nigeria) with future plans to deliver a workshop in Ghana. SAES has also developed the rainscience project to introduce school children to climate science through a workshop ("Measuring the sizes of raindrops") exploring raindrops, using the flour pellet method of measuring raindrop sizes. The society has also annually participated in Day of Earth Sciences in Africa and Middle East in association with African Association of Women in the Geosciences. 

   The Society has networked with African scientists and engineers with the intention to encourage projects in Africa that contribute towards African technological and infrastructural development, through enhancing skills and knowledge, particularly, of African youth, on whom the continent's future will depend. For instance, the chair of SAES has been in contact with research scientist Suleiman Babamanu of  NASENI - Nigerian Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure, who has since established a national project  to expose African school children in Nigeria (under the auspices of NASENI ) to renewable energy technology (in particular solar) and to raise their awareness about the science of climate change.

The photos show Suleiman and his colleagues from NASENI delivering the workshop to students of the Government Secondary School in Karshi, and the Garki Science and Technical college, Abuja. Karshi in Abuja is also the site of Nigeria's first solar panel manufacturing plant, which is run by NASENI at their location in Abuja. The students were given detailed practical demonstrations in groups and enlightened about the benefits of solar, in the context of renewable energies in general and also climate change. This is an initiative of which NASENI should be proud. This is the sort of interaction to enhance learning experience that local school children will benefit from greatly and it will also open young eyes to the opportunities in renewable energy for Africa. The project has been taken to other secondary schools in Abuja and will visit more in the near future and further afield in Nigeria under its established title: “ Solar in Schools Outreach Programme”.

Also SAES has continued to publish its regular newsletter. In this issue we also assess the potential for Africa’s development of renewable energy technologies which, on first glance, would appear to be vast. SAES continues  the struggle to realise this huge untapped potential for African energy development, by raising awareness and promoting the vision of a sustainable, independent and secure African energy future. According to a recent report, Africa is currently achieving only 1% of renewable energy (excluding hydropower)  in its total energy usage. African energy is made up of 1% renewable energy (excluding hydropower), 16% hydropower, 81% oil, coal and gas, 2 % nuclear. So there is great potential to improve renewables other than hydropower, although hydropower is under utilised also. So if we include hydropower, we can substantially improve the share of African energy that is renewable.
   Renewable energy technologies are crucial to Africa at this moment not only because of the need to avoid fossil fuels and mitigate climate change globally; but also because in themselves renewable energy technologies have many advantages for African countries:
-          These are technologies that improve the general health  of the population in replacing highly polluting fossil fuels such as diesel in local generators or coal and paraffin
-          These technologies are far cheaper for the electrification of the masses of African rural populations, where the distribution of power to rural communities would be inordinately expensive if power is to be transported over large distances.
-          These technologies  have the capacity to boost local African economies, as they create opportunities for the development of  new trade and also therefore more longer term opportunities of employment for local people.

Many of the problems Africa faces today can potentially be tackled by improved employment of Africa’s vast and untapped potential to produce renewable energies.
   All energy sources on earth ultimately originate from the sun. Even hydropower is only made possible by water deposited at high altitudes as rainfall resulting from the evaporation over oceans, rivers and streams.
   Renewable energies are important for Africa to implement, not only because of the looming spectre of climate change which threatens future security, but also because renewable energies offer  to

a)      Vitalise local economies by opening up opportunities for the establishment of new businesses and industries

b)      Create new opportunities for long term employment of local people.

c)       Improve public health

Renewable energy offers Africa small to medium scale off-grid solutions to Africa’s power shortage, for rural communities to enjoy the electricity produced from small to medium scale solar, hydropower, wind and geothermal devices.  A strategy that focusses on the development of rural communities will benefit the poorest majority of Africans and extend the benefits of electricity well beyond the reach of urban based and fossil fuel powered plants. It is known that 70-90% of Africa's population have little or no access to electricity, and most of these live in rural areas (1).
   In effect adoption of renewables offers Africa a developmental quantum leap in energy production that develops the latest renewable energy technologies, without having to suffer the problems of a fossil fuel phase experienced by industrialised nations.
   It is recognised that Africa can protect its people, its environment and future economic development by using renewable sources. 
     Indeed, many problems arise in trying to extend the national grid in developing nations to reach rural communities, and off-grid renewables offer the only practical and affordable solution to meet rural electrification needs. We must take into account the fact that the transportation of power via power lines over long distances, cannot be done without the great infrastructural costs of erecting power lines that are of stable construction but which lose power over long distances; as well as being vulnerable to interruption of services due to conflict and unrest in certain parts of the continent. Off-grid systems have the advantage that they generate power at or close to the point of use and are therefore not prone to the vagaries of interruption or loss of power arising from transportation via power lines over large distances when connecting rural communities to the national grid.

Solar Energy Resources
Many African countries receive a high number of days of sunshine throughout the year, especially in the dry arid zones such as the Sahara desert or the Sahel. This access to sunshine all the year around enables the employment of small off-grid systems to bring electricity to the rural communities, virtually anywhere on the continent, where it would be expensive to transport this power the long distances required from fossil fuel powered stations, often in urban centres.
   Although under-employed, solar and wind are the fastest growing renewable energy technologies on the African continent. The point has been made before in relation to investment, that the cost of initial investment in solar, like other renewables is high. But this investment is followed by a period of low maintenance and operational costs.
   Another important investment decision Africans must make in relation to solar, is when to invest in the establishment of solar energy power plants, which require tens or hundreds of millions of dollars to fund; and when to invest in solar panel manufacturing plants, which require only units of millions to fund - but lead to job creation, and a mushrooming in the number of off-grid solar installations made.  A strategy involving both types of investment is needed.
   Five notable examples of solar panel manufacturing in Africa, evince some progress on a continental basis to a level of self sufficiency in regard to the production of African solar energy, with solar panel manufacturing plants being currently established in Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal and South Africa (2). 
   There are also a growing number of large scale power plants emerging on the continent including, for instance the 15 Megawatt (MW) solar energy plant at Ouarzazate in Mauritania, which serves 10% of the country's needs. There is also the case of South Africa, which in trying to lessen its dependence on coal, has established the 96 MW Jasper plant in the Northern Cape. Ghana plans to establish a large scale solar power plant at Nzema, which will be the largest on the continent supplying 155 MW of power (3).

Geothermal Energy Resources

Africa’s geothermal energy sources are concentrated in the eastern part of Africa, particularly the East Africa Rift Valley, which is about 3,700 miles long, passing through as many as 13 countries that can benefit from this largely untapped resource, from Eritrea in the north to Mozambique in the south.
   There are plans to drill exploratory wells in countries along the rift valley (4), and multiagency funds are being made available for some of these countries to begin the exploitation of their geothermal resources. Geothermal energy, essentially provides electricity in a method akin to that of fossil fuel plants (like coal and oil plants)  that provide great heat to produce steam which can then be used to rotate turbines that then generate electricity.
   Currently, Kenya is the only one of the Rift Valley nations that is making significant steps in exploiting its geothermal resources. It currently delivers about 150 MW from geothermal energy out of a estimated potential of 10,000 MW (5). 


In Libya (in December 2008) a ministerial conference on  “Water for Agriculture & Energy in Africa”, under the auspices of the Ghaddafi government resulted in a report on African river and hydropower resources that estimated that only 20% of the continents   hydro-power resources have so far been tapped (6). Other reports estimate this to be as low as only 7% (7).
   Throughout Africa, from east to west and north to central Africa, there is a wealth of permanent rivers and streams with untapped hydropower potential. Many site offer opportunity for "run of the river schemes", which do not require construction of dams or reservoirs to facilitate the exploitation of hydropower potential. The Libya government report cited, highlights some of the obstacles that exist to the implementation of small hydropower schemes in Africa, including
  • lack of capacity to manufacture rudimentary parts for turbines
  • lack of capacity to design and develop small schemes for remote regions
  • lack of access to appropriate technology to facilitate, mini-, micro- and pico-hydropower projects.
There do exist, however, UN assisted hydropower projects such as that supported by UNEP (United Nations Environmental Programme) to apply small hydropower to tea estates in East Africa to generate electricity. In West Africa, the UNDP (United Nations development Programme) is implementing off-grid rural electrification in ten countries (8).
   There is also evidence of success in developing small scale community based hydropower schemes in Zimbabwe (9, 10 ) and Kenya (11, 12 ). Small or micro-hydropower schemes require low cost investment and the benefits are seen in the short term. For these and other reasons, their use should be embedded in any national development plan.

Wave and Wind Resources

 Africa has a very large coastline, which avails the continent of substantial wind and wave energy resources. Other areas in Africa where wind resources are found to be abundant include the Horn of Africa, eastern Kenya, parts of West and Central Africa bordering on the Sahara and parts of Southern Africa.  Somalia has the highest onshore potential for wind energy, followed by Sudan, Libya, Mauritania, Egypt Madagascar and Kenya (13).
   A noted advantage of solar, hydro and wind power is that in cost terms, they are extremely “scalable”. This means that wind, hydro and solar resources are available to be exploited from as little as 1 watt up to several megawatts of power. This means that any facility from the scale of a home up to a village can be electrified with a small initial capital investment. Furthermore, they allow for incremental scaling upwards as more funds become available allowing for incremental additions to the system to increase the power and capacity.  So, if our resources only allow us to afford the purchase of X batteries and Y solar panels we can go ahead and set up a system on that basis. As we get more funds, we are able to add more batteries or  more panels, for instance, to increase the capacity and power of our system.

Solar and Clean Water Provision

It turns out that adopting more use of solar can increase Africa's clean water supply via devices such as solar water pumps and water purifiers. The purifier works through evaporation and UV radiation to kill the pathogens in the water. Solar disinfection (SODIS) is currently used in Kenya and Uganda to help rid drinking water of pathogens (14).

The increase in clean water provision due to solar in turn impacts on national health.  Such devices may have a high initial installation cost, but have low maintenance and low operational costs thereafter, and have other benefits including improvement of public health. 

Funding Africa’s Leap into the Renewable Energy Future

The renewable energy resources available to Africa are seen to be potentially vast. However, this potential is not easily realisable without the financial support to make that happen. There are various initiatives aimed at financial support of African renewable energy such as AREI (African Renewable Energy Initiative), which has raised $200 million to support small and medium scale initiatives in sub Saharan Africa. AREI aims to produce 300 Giga Watts of power from renewables for Africa by 2030. Most of this production will be solar and wind energy (15). 
   AREI has been endorsed by an earlier meeting of African Heads of State on the committee of African Heads of State on Climate Change at the AU.
   There are various other initiatives which are not substantially covered here and which need closer examination. Some are a part of carbon trade-offs (CDM - clean development mechanisms designed under the Kyoto Protocol to promote investment in projects that reduce or sequester emissions of green house gases in developing nations)  whereby  European corporations ameliorate (ostensibly) their negative impact on climate change, due to  their use of African oil by offering subsidies in  support of initiatives in Africa that generate renewable energy. Some run the risk of creating a dependence on outside aid from particular quarters, e.g. Europe, if a healthy diversity of support options is not available. 
   An obvious fundamental objection to the funding arising from carbon exchange, is that carbon trading can in itself be viewed with a certain healthy dose of suspicion that it is merely a mechanism that lets western corporations off the hook in terms of making direct cuts to their Co2 emissions. Also this might be seen as too much of a piecemeal way to fund a step that requires strategic investment, not investment as and when western corporations seek to make carbon trade-offs.
   An alternative initiative which, although private sector based, emphasizes sustainable development finance is SEFA, the Sustainable Energy Fund for Africa, which is administered by the African Development Bank. This fund supports small and medium  scale renewable energy projects in Africa underpinned by the belief that renewable energy can improve employment of local people (16). The difference made here between sustainable development project finance as compared with other finance is that  the host nation is more likely to enjoy the so called "multiplier effects" of such investment; whereas with  a non-sustainable development approach to finance, the foreign investors and their home nation typically are the ones to enjoy these "multiplier effects" as well as any direct profits. These multiplier effects include growth in trade as well as in employment resulting from the investment. 


The Planet Remade: How Geo-engineering could change the world
By Oliver Morton, Granta.

This promises to be an interesting read, with the author apparently  justifying the need to move ahead with geo-engineering on the basis that current measures to combat climate change will amount to too little action too late. One can appreciate the author’s impatience, but also the dangers of us rushing into endorsing potentially dangerous technologies.
   Morton seems pessimistic about current efforts: “Any plausible cuts in carbon-dioxide emissions made today would have more or less no effect until the mid-century. By that time the costs of inaction might be horribly plain…”.
   Perhaps Morton has a valid point on the slowness of action on climate change and there are valid concerns about the efficacy of carbon trading in actually reducing greenhouse emissions, but one must also take into account the possibility that geo-engineering could go wrong.
   One method proposed to reverse climate change would be to spray sulphur aerosols into the atmosphere to reflect solar radiation away from the earth. However, unintended side effects could include a 30% decrease in tropical rainfall which would kill off rainforests and exacerbate the situation. (see: ).
   Morton appears to proffer that even with the negative unintended consequences of geo-engineering, they will not make us as badly off as on a planet with a rise in temperature of more than 2 degrees centigrade. But one must wonder how that statement can be made with any confidence, since we have no idea of the actual consequences of geo-engineering; only those consequences which we might speculate.
   Of course, the reader is left, despite these concerns  and despite the controversy of the subject matter, to approach the book with an open mind.

Earth Science Events

18-19 March 2016
International Conference on Metrology (CAFMET)
Venue: Dakar, Senegal
Vision: The International Conference of Metrology to share information, ideas and experiences, open discussion, technical workshops and exhibition…

19-21 May 2016
International Conference on Applied Geology & Environment
Venue: Mahdia, Tunisia
VISION: Tunisian association of applied geology has aimed since its creation, to continuously hold bi-annual meetings. Challenges arising from the implications of economic development, progressive developments of all sectors are threatening the whole ecosystem.
     In this international conference on applied geology and the environment (iCAGE2016), we are going to deal with the Earth sciences, including the pressing naturally occurring problems and preservation of its natural resources. Our expectations are to bring together the experts and young researchers from all over the world to discuss the recent developments in fundamental and applied geology and to promote exchange of ideas in various applications of natural resources.

23-25 May 2016
International Association of Sedimentology Meeting of Sedimentology
Venue: Marrakech, Morocco
VISION: IAS meeting  and the  Ibn Battuta Centre in collaboration with  Cadi Ayyad University host international meeting on sedimentology.

15-17 August 2016
International Conference on Alternative and Renewable Energy Quest
Venue: Cairo, Egypt

VISION: International conference organised by IEREK. Promotional material  includes the following:-

"The world has a critical necessity to search for alternative and renewable energy and the importance of its technologies have been growing significantly.

For several important reasons, this is extremely important for the future of our society:

  •      Renewable energy still has a long way to go in order to replace fossil fuels and become a primary source of energy consumption but things have been lately definitely moving in the right direction.

  •      It would significantly decrease the current levels of greenhouse gas emissions, and this would have positive environmental impact for our entire planet.
IEREK seeks to promote and disseminate knowledge of the various topics and technologies of renewable and alternative energy resources through organizing the international conference."

27 August – 4 September  2016
International Geological Congress
Venue: Cape Town, South Africa
VISION: The Council for Geosciences together with the Geological Society of South Africa and other collaborators from academia and industry, currently lead the preparations for the 35th IGC in South Africa.

1-7 October 2016
8th Conference of the African  Association of Women in the Geosciences
Venue: Sibiu, Romania
VISION: The African Association of Women in Geosciences (AAWG) is supporting the development of Earth Scientists in Africa by providing opportunities for networking and promoting the application of geosciences for sustainable development. To meet these challenges, AAWG is organizing numerous activities in and out of the African continent. Biannual International Conferences are being organized to address various challenges that the African continent is facing and to which Earth Sciences could make a contribution. In order to strengthen the collaboration between our African and non-African members and also to increase the visibility of the Association, the 8th AAWG Conference is being organized for the first time out of the African continent. To meet these objectives, we choose as a title for the 8th conference "Building bridges between Earth Scientists Worldwide: A Way for Promoting Peace and Strengthening Integration". This conference is organized locally by the Geological Society of Romania and is hosted by Astra National Museum Complex, Sibiu.

31 October – 6 November 2016
African Rift Geothermal Conference (ARGeo)
Venue: Asmara, Eritrea
VISION: Sixth Africa Rift Geothermal Conference in collaboration with United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and other support partners…

2-4 December 2016
International Conference on Improving Sustainability Concept in Developing Countries
Venue: Conrad Cairo Hotel, Cairo, Egypt
VISION: International conference…

References and Selected Reading

  1. NORPLAN Study, Cost Competitiveness of Rural Electrification Solutions, Norwegian Agency for Cooperative Development (NORAD), 2012.
  2. "Bright Sun, Bright Future: Can Africa Unlock its Solar Potential?",
  3. Ibid.
  4. Geothermal Potential in Africa.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Water for Agriculture and Energy in Africa: Hydro-power Assessment of Africa, December 2008.
  7. Klunne, W.J.,"Small Hydro-power Development in Africa, ESI Africa, Issue 2, 2007.
  8. NORPLAN Study, Ibid.
  9. Think Africa, Zimbabwe: Bringing Hydropower to the People, May 2012.
  10. Klunne, W.J.,"Micro-hydropower in Rural Africa, Challenge, Spring 2011,
  11. Klunne, W.J.,"Small Hydro-power Development in Africa, ibid.
  12. Water for Agriculture and Energy in Africa: Hydro-power Assessment of Africa, ibid.
  13.  "Why are Wind Farm Developers Loving Africa?",
  15. 100021197/#ixzz3ubDjpfV8
  17. Jordan, et al (eds), Land & Power:  Sustainable agriculture and African Americans - A collection of essays from the 2007 Black environmental thought conference. Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE), 2007.
  18. Gupta, S.K., Modern Hydrology and Sustainable Water Development, Wiley-Blackwell, West Sussex, 2011.
  19. A link on “Groundwater and Rural Water Supply in Africa”:
  20. Link to Journal of African Earth Sciences:

      *Board of the Society of African Earth Scientists: Dr Chukwunyere Kamalu (Chair - Nigeria), Osmin Callis (Secretary - Guyana/Nigeria), Ndivhuwo Cecilia Mukosi (South Africa), Mathada Humphrey (South Africa), Dr Enas Ahmed (Egypt).

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