Convened under the leadership of Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Energy, the Mano River Union Secretariat and The Energy Nexus Network (TENN), the first High-Level Mano River Union Multi-Stakeholder Conference on Renewable Energy and Clean Cooking was declared opened in Freetown by H.E. President Julius Maada Bio.
The theme driving the forum, “Growing the Sub-Regional Regional Energy Market,” came alive at the beginning of the plenary session through a unique set of speeches choreographed by the conveners reflecting the urgent need to achieve SDG 7 – access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy and clean cooking solutions while facilitating sub-regional integrated energy markets, to ensure harmony and shared prosperity across the union and the African continent.
Proud of her partnership with the Government of Sierra Leone in hosting the conference, Ambassador Medina Wesseh implored all to work hard in providing lasting solutions to energy poverty and clean cooking. “Our political leaders and the people in the sub-region are looking for results and it is my hope that following our substantive deliberations over these two days, we will deliver on a concrete plan of actions that will meet their expectations.”
Addressing the global energy context and the humble beginnings of the conference, TENN’s Founder and Chairmen, Hon. Kandeh Yumkella noted the beginning of what he hope, becomes an annual dialogue focusing on providing the enabling conditions for the development of integrated markets following the European Union experience; the best energy integrated market in the world.
“In the EU” said he, “some countries are too small and have no energy. So, they buy from those that have. It is the same for Sierra Leone and Liberia; too small to attract big investments.” Yumkella further noted that both he and the minister are from different parties. However, when it comes to what benefits Sierra Leone, we think first about our country.
Hon. Yumkella also unveiled the construction of the offices and training facility of The Energy Nexus Network. “This will serve as a knowledge hub for Africa with partnerships and institutions from the United States, Europe and Asia.” TENN’s mission is coordinating energy access with key energy-enabling SDGs and building the energy ecosystem/enabling conditions and processes for scaling-up sustainable energy solutions. “A future where energy poverty is eliminated, energy access is synchronized with sustainable development and processes that are ready for scaling-up sustainable energy solutions,” he underscored.
ECREEE’s Executive Director, Mahama Kappiah, highlighted the work his organization is doing within the ECOWAS region and the immense potential for Sierra Leone to benefit emphasizing the need for robust partnerships that helps to attract major investments. In 2017, ECOWAS Heads of State adopted the West Africa Solar Corridor Initiative which, when fully implemented, “will allow the region to speed up the attainment of regional renewable targets by developing energy-based power and integrating same into the regional power grid.”
Other notable projects include the 270 million Regional Off-Grid Electrification Project – ROGEP supported by the World Bank and the West Africa Clean Cooking (WACCA). The ROGEP which aims to increase access to sustainable electricity services through standalone systems to at least 10 million people while the WACCA aim to ensure the entire population have access to sustainable and modern cooking fuels and appliances by 2030.
Power Africa has power projects in many countries in Africa but no in Sierra Leone. We need to change that, said Andrew Herscowitz, Coordinator for Power Africa as he began his remarks. “Over the years we have learned that the critical factor to achieve any success toward these goals is political will to create an investment climate that favors competition and innovation from the private sector. We will achieve these outcomes through the West Africa Energy Program by strategically aligning energy planning, transmission and distribution with new investment opportunities.” Herscowitz also challenged the region to provide more opportunities for women to play a leading role in the sector.
Coordinator Herscowitz also reminded the audience that he has always admired Hon. Yumkella. Said he, “Kandeh Yumkella brought the issue of energy access to the attention of the world” and noted the leading role Yumkella played in rallying the global community in getting SDG-7 as the world knows it today. “He inspires world leaders and all of us. I am ashamed that it took me this long to visit his beautiful home country of Sierra Leone.”
For her part, Bärbel Höhn, Special Representative for Energy in Africa, German Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development and Chair of the Global Renewables Congress expressed her delight in visiting Freetown for this conference. “When we began to talk about this conference, we did not expect much. Then, we decided to ask Kandeh and here we are with such a successful event,” she mentioned.
“Access to clean energy is not only a Sustainable Development Goal but also an instrument to fight poverty and create jobs. Cooking with renewable electricity, biogas and efficient stoves also increase health conditions and gender balance. Women and parliamentarians play a key role for implementing a 100% Renewable Energy target”
Given the unique perspectives that each country in the union brings to the table, Minister Alhaji Kanja Sesay put the spotlight around Sierra Leone’s experience around mini-grid planning, procurement and development as a leader in West Africa. Under his leadership, Sesay said, his ministry’s “flagship Rural Renewable Energy Programme with the support of DFID and UNOPS, has served 54 communities with mini-grids and another 40 to be served by end of next year – bringing the total to 94. Sesay believes it is imperative for the sub-region to share their experiences with each other so together they can advance energy access in the union as he showcased each country’s strength.
“It is an imperative for our development that we address energy poverty in Sierra Leone in particular and in the sub-region in general,” said President Julius Maada Bio delivering his keynote and opening remarks. Reminding participants about his government’s efforts towards developing meaningful regulations that encourages private sector partnerships, President Bio announced that by 2022, 145 mini grids should be operational serving over 400,000 customers. His government’s efforts “will contribute significantly to narrowing the disparities in energy access between urban and rural areas.”
“We recognize the challenges and we are aware that we will have to demonstrate consistent and focused leadership, leverage continued support from our sector partners, and also invest in re-organizing the sector and increasing generation sources and supply,” he said.
Expressing his gratitude on behalf of the organizers for his presence, Hon. Yumkella informed participants that President Bio had just arrived in country following a trip abroad. “He chose to be here with us knowing how important energy access is to economic and social development.”