Answering Africa’s waste problem with energy solutions

Africa is hungry for energy. According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), only 24pc of sub-Saharan Africans have access to electricity, and the energy generation capacity of the entire African continent (excluding South Africa) is only 28 Gigawatts, equal to that of Argentina alone.

With the current state of low energy consumption and access, even individuals connected to a power grid experience on average; 54 days of power outage a year – that’s darkness for 15pc of the year. The WEF also projected that the demand for energy solutions is only set to rise with increasing population, urbanization and economic productivity.

The move towards innovative ways of turning what was once termed a waste crisis into a sustainable solution for a struggling sector is quickly becoming commonplace amongst African leaders, as well as organizations in the public and private sectors. Spanning decades, the shortage of sustainable energy has embedded itself into the very fabric of socio-economic factors that plague the African continent, giving credence to the tag ‘the dark continent’ and making it more than just a metaphor. Africa’s immediate need for energy has catalyzed the growth of the waste-to-energy industry globally.

In the waste-to-energy conversation, Sweden stands out as a stellar example having wholly turned its waste problem into a solution. The country began its waste management revolution in the 1980s with the development of incineration plants, as disposal sites became harder to find and leachate pollutants became a significant problem. Today, the country incinerates 50pc of its waste to generate energy, and recycles about 49pc, leaving only 1pc to go into the landfill.

In Africa, after a dumpsite landslide in March 2017 which killed over 100 people, Ethiopia became the first African county to launch a full waste-to-energy plant in Addis Ababa. The plant will incinerate 1400 tons of waste every day and is planned to supply 30pc of the city’s electricity requirement. The waste-to-energy plant will divert waste from their Koshe dumpsite and is being financed by a public-private partnership between the Ethiopian government and a consortium of investors from Singapore, China, and Denmark.

Visionscape, an environmental company providing turnkey solutions in the areas of waste management is on the cusp of offering a lasting solution to address two significant challenges facing emerging markets – waste management and sustainable energy. Operating a closed loop system, Visionscape using its sustainable business model to reduce the carbon footprint by recycling and reusing 90pc of the materials manufactured and the waste collected to provide waste-to-energy solutions in various markets.

With its West African regional office in Lagos Nigeria, Visionscape presently double-hats as the official residential waste collector and the concessionaire developing the backbone infrastructure for an integrated waste management system. Speaking to the waste to energy needs, the Group was also constructing the first engineered sanitary landfill/Eco-park in West Africa.

Harvesting and sharing knowledge in global best practices, Visionscape’s Eco-park model will receive waste ranging from agricultural waste to household organic waste and industrial slurry, the plant will also generate electricity for the Eco-park. Excess energy produced will be distributed to surrounding communities as one of the company’s community sustainability investments. The successful deployment of this pioneering facility is expected to open the market and encourage more public and private investment in waste-to-energy projects.

Beyond the process of energy generation, and to guarantee the completion of the sustainability chain in a zero-waste loop, the end product from the process is rich in ADP which is used as fertilizer for farmlands in the agricultural sector. The chain creates a complete cycle; from farmland waste to energy generation and back to providing fertilizers for the farms, ensuring that nothing is wasted.

The closed-loop system of production has been a conversation amongst environmental experts for decades. The need for other like-minded think-tanks to champion for the cause in Africa and other new economies has become imperative. Organizations should pay attention and seek to adopt sustainable models that promote viable solutions to Africa’s pressing environmental and economic challenges.

(Adeniyi Makanjuola is a Director of environmental management think-tank Visionscape Group)

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