While COP21 is still under way in Paris, Africa has a central place in the debates as well as in the solutions for the future. Facing a severe lack of energy infrastructure, many countries seek to move directly from an electricity deficit economy to a landscape full of renewable energy. This is the case with Benin, where only 25% of the population has access to electricity, and where the government has proposed to set up a program called “Light for All” whose purpose is to provide a solar energy system to all Beninese households within the next six months. Ambitious? Definitely, but not unrealistic.
“Bringing Benin out of darkness is providing education, security, health and increasing the purchasing power of the people”, promise made this day by the Beninese Prime Minister, Lionel Zinsou, appointed to the post last June. The businessman who has lived in France for a long time was also recently designated as the ruling party’s candidate for the February 2016 presidential election.
Lionel Zinsou presented the project in Paris early December, alongside his foundation, Africa France. Judging from the reactions received, he has at least convinced the Beninese Diaspora of France. “We do not have oil. We have no capital. But we do have the capacity: civil servants, a diaspora which wants to come back”, he said.
His program “Light for All” is one of the initiatives presented by African states at the Paris UN Conference on Climate Change. The program, launched on November 27th, envisages the distribution of kits powered by solar energy to schools and homes of the country in order to ensure minimum light in areas where there is acute shortage. 1 000 students have already received one of these solar lamps since November. The program will enjoy support from private stakeholders during its implementation.
Lionel Zinsou is aware that this is an interim, temporary, and not a definitive solution. He speaks of developing sustainable long term-solutions such as the creation of mini-grids afterwards so that houses, even the poorest ones, should have access to electricity in the home, and also about the development of biomass power plants.
The entire Zinsou plan is made up of three stages: first of all, there is the distribution of eight million solar lamps, secondly, the deployment of 105 mini power plants throughout the territory of Benin, and finally the increase in the capacity of the national grid. The Prime Minister also said that the benefits of the program should help to increase the economic growth potential of Benin.
According to ADB estimates, current energy shortages and blackouts cost Benin 2% of its GDP. Besides, this program could be exported to other countries of the continent.
In Benin, renewable energy is tax-free, a measure that aims to attract investors, as the country currently produces only 1% of its electricity needs, estimated at 240 megawatts according to the Benin Info magazine.
Light and connectivity being two of the demands considered most essential by Africans today, the simplicity and effectiveness of this program, if successful as easy as it is announced, could be great news for most parts of the continent.