The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has changed the course of life for everyone across the globe.
It has effected all segments of the economy including the power sector of every nation on earth.
Yet in Ghana, the provision of electricity as a public good must continue in order to ensure the sustainability of the economy.
The decision by Government to partially absorb the monthly electricity bills of consumers for the period April, May and June is a step in the right direction, which deserves commendation from all.
The kind gesture which has also been extended to water consumers for the same period, aims to mitigate the socioeconomic cost of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Mr Peter John Amewu, the Energy Minister, the electricity supply by the Government to cushion the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on Ghanaians would cost one billion Ghana Cedis ($181.82 million).
The COVID-19 pandemic reminds us of the indispensable role of electricity in our lives.
Indeed, electricity is needed in our homes, offices, schools, industries and hospitals.
Taking the hospitals setting for example, electricity is needed to operate ventilators and other medical equipment for treating the sick.
Some preventive measures aimed at containing the COVID-19 pandemic include social distancing, handwashing with soap under running water and the use of hand sanitizer.
Some organisations as part of efforts to promote social distancing have asked their staff to be working from home, however, this can only be possible with a reliable supply of electricity.
Educational institutions, which have also being hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, have resulted to online teaching and learning.
In this case, every student part-taking in this online teaching and learning needs a stable and reliable source of electricity.
According to the International Atomic Energy (2020) across all major regions of the world, the power mix has shifted towards renewables following lockdown measures due to depressed electricity demand, low operating costs and priority access to the grid through regulations.
It said in India, the gap between coal and renewables has narrowed significantly.
Whereas in the United States, natural gas has remained the leading source of electricity, while renewables have far outpaced the contribution of coal-fired power plants.
Because of the shift towards renewable energy, global air quality has improved within this COVID-19 pandemic era.
In Ghana, the Voice for Change Partnership (V4CP) Programme, an evidence based advocacy programme being implemented by the SNV Netherlands Development Organisation in partnership with the International Food and Policy Research Institute with funding from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is playing a significant role towards the provision of renewable energy in rural areas, especially among island communities around the Volta Lake.
The V4CP programme focuses on generating evidence and building the capacity of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in the following thematic areas such as Renewable Energy, Food and Nutrition Security and Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH).
Under the V4CP programme, SNV and Centre for Energy, Environment and Sustainable Development (CEESD) are advocating to speed up mini-grid development for remote island communities, by ensuring the right policies are in place, by increasing collaboration with local communities and private sector, and by ensuring government and development partners prioritise mini- grid programs and investments.
Study shows that about 17 per cent of Ghana’s population, or five million people, do not have access to electricity, with 2.9 million of them residing in lakeside and island communities created by the Akosombo Dam in the Volta River, which was built in 1965.
While the benefits of electricity to these communities are huge (for example for access to cold drinking water, listening to the radio, charging phones or watching television), targeting these communities with conventional grid extensions is practically impossible seeing the costs of such investments.
The World Bank funded the construction of the five pilot mini-grids under the Ghana Energy Development and Access Project (GEDAP).
These solar projects have a total of about 200kW and are expected to provide 24-hour electricity to about 3,500 residents of the five island communities of Kudorkope, Aglakope, Atigagome, Wayokope and Pediatorkope in the Sene East, Krachi West, Krachi East and Ada Districts respectively.
Through the V4CP programme, SNV supports CSOs to foster collaboration among relevant stakeholders, influence agenda-setting and hold government and private sector accountable for their promises and actions.
According to Mr Eric Banye, SNV Ghana immediate past National Programme Coordinator, having a constant supply of electricity is equally a right; hence “we need more focus on off-grid electrification for many rural overseas communities”.
Connecting the rural communities to mini-grids or the national grid, would help promote teaching and learning in those areas.
The electricity would also empower the rural folks to use electrical gargets like television and radios to receive news updates on the COVID-19 pandemic.
It would help staff of health posts, clinics, and health centres located in the hinterlands to store some drugs in refrigerators and deep freezers for the treatment of patients.
Mr Dramani Bukari, SNV Ghana National Programme Coordinator, speaking at a symposium to inform stakeholders of the Government’s plans for electricity extension to island and riverside communities in 2017 at Donkokrom in the Eastern Region, said the SNV would continue to use evidence to lobby policy makers to ensure that they remain committed to the deployment of rural electrification.
He said the private sector’s role should be clearly stated in Ghana’s mini-grid policy environment; adding that beyond contracting a management, they should be given a bigger space to operate.
A stable and reliable electricity would also go a long way to contribute to clean cooking, thereby improving public health by reducing harmful emissions of particulate matter and black carbon.
The role being played by the Energy Ministry in the provision of mini-grids cannot be underestimated.
Indeed, if there is stable and reliable supply of electricity across the country, it would go a long way to contribute towards the Government’s efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
Renewable energy plays a critical role in helping countries prepare, respond and recover from COVID-19 pandemic.
Promoting the use of renewable energy can provide affordable solutions that are in line with climate targets and can help mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on people’s livelihoods and local economies.
The time for us as a nation to take a critical look at the renewable energy sector is now.
By Iddi Z. Yire