SA hands ASADI baton to Uganda

November 10, 2010

It is sayonara (or should that be totsiens) from the ASADI conference for this year. It’s been a minister-studded event – at least from the South African side – but it is clear that many African academies have a long way to go before they become the go-to partner for governments looking for policy advice.

The next conference – ASADI’s seventh – will take place in Kampala, Uganda, from 13-17 November 2011. The theme of the next conference will be Aid effectiveness in Africa’s health sector, and it will be hosted by the Uganda National Academy of Science (UNAS). The topic is timely. With the financial crisis putting pressure on international development budgets, aid effectiveness has become a buzzword. (Or should that be two buzzwords?) UNAS president Paul Mugambi welcomed all present to Kampala next year.

The year after that – 2012 – the ASADI conference will be hosted by Nigeria.

With delegates soon returning to their various corners of Africa (and beyond), all that remains for us bloggers is to say: thank you for reading!

Linda Nordling and Munyaradzi Makoni

Munyaradzi Makoni and Linda Nordling with Kamogelo Seekoei from the Mail&Guardian (centre). Credit: Desmond Thompson, Stellenbosch University

A dawn for South Africa’s poor?

November 10, 2010

Getting wired up. Credit: Kuyasa CDM project

A lack of funds is stalling the second phase of the Kuyasa solar energy project, South Africa’s first internationally registered Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) project under the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.

I was part of the group of ASADI delegates who chose to visit the solar project while others visited the Koeberg nuclear power station and or the Palmiet Pumped Storage Scheme – a hydroelectricity venture between power utility Eskom and the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry

Guided by Zuko Ndamane, the site project manager at the Kuyasa project site in the poor Cape Town township of Khayelitsha, we saw how cheap energy had transformed the lives of residents.

The Kuyasa project (Kuyasa means dawn in Xhosa, a local language) has fitted free government houses with solar water heaters and insulated ceilings.

“The pride in the projects is it was 100 percent locally driven, local people were trained to install the water heaters. With its success we are now struggling for funds to complete the phase two of the project,” said Ndamane.

One woman who had an opportunity to welcome the researchers into her own house beamed with pride as she explained how happy she was to live in a secure house with access to affordable electricity.

As the tour bus drove off, it was clear to us visitors that this project could be replicated elsewhere in Africa.

Munyaradzi Makoni, freelance journalist for SciDev.Net

Gaining credibility a ‘chicken and egg thing’

November 10, 2010

The ASADI conference rounded up today with a brief roundtable session to discuss lessons learned and the way forward.

Final panel discussion. Rob Adams is third from the right.

Boaventura Cuamba of the Academy of Science of Mozambique said the conference had revealed to him the difficulty for individual academics to find resources to do research on expanding electricity access but noted that if African researchers collaborated regionally, they would have access to more resources.

Cuamba’s feelings were echoed by Gibson Mandishora, a member of the Zimbabwe Academy of Sciences. He said that academies must foster close intra-Africa collaborations on energy issues.

Everyone agreed that academies could and should have a key role providing governments with scientific advice.

But Rob Adam, chief executive of the South Africa Nuclear Energy Corporation, advised the academies present to work on their credibility.

“You must gain good credibility to be able to give advice. The face that you have as an academic does not mean a minister or a policymaker will be prepared to listen to you,” he said.

But academies would gain credibility only by proving their ability to provide quality advice, resulting in a “chicken or egg” situation for aspirational academies, Adams added.

Munyaradzi Makoni, freelance journalist SciDev.Net

Crewe next NASAC president?

November 10, 2010

The next president of NASAC? Credit: InterAcademy Council

The Network of African Science Academies (NASAC) will meet tomorrow as an add-on to the ASADI meeting – a ‘two birds with one stone’ sort of thing.

On the agenda is choosing a new president to replace the ubiquitous Mohamed Hassan, who has to step down after being selected as a co-chair of the Interacademy Panel (IAP) earlier this year. Sudan-born Hassan is also retiring from his post as executive director of TWAS, the academy of sciences for the developing world.

Rumour has it that Robin Crewe, vice-rector of the University of Pretoria in South Africa and president of the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAF) will be the next NASAC president.

Linda Nordling, SciDev.Net columnist

Nuclear energy in Africa

November 10, 2010

Koeberg nuclear power station near Cape Town. Credit: Flickr/paulscott56

Africa needs nuclear energy – but the kind of small reactors that would suit the continent is not currently on offer, the meeting heard this morning.

Rob Adam from the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation said that top of the range reactors provide ten to a hundred times the kind of power output that would be suitable in Africa.

“In Kenya, the overall size of the grid is 2,000 megawatts,” he said.  “If you have a reactor that provides 1,600 megawatts and you take it down for maintenance, you take Kenya down. 10-100 megawatts is the right size.”

This size reactor is currently not on the market, but modified versions of the reactors used in nuclear-powered submarines could fit the bill, he said. Their military origin pose a challenge to their commercial adoption, however.

Nuclear power is not appropriate for all African countries, Adam added. South Africa is the only African country with a nuclear power plant. Adam suggested that nuclear might make sense in Algeria, Egypt, Namibia and Nigeria. Namibia is one of the continent’s main uranium producers and Nigeria is its second biggest energy consumer.

Interestingly, Adam did not mention Sudan – a country which recently voiced huge nuclear ambitions – in his list of countries where nuclear is an option.

Sudan’s nuclear ambitions were not credible, he told me later. “Nobody would sell a reactor to them.”

Linda Nordling, SciDev.Net columnist

The problem with rural energy consumers

November 10, 2010

Rolling out electricity to rural areas is expensive. Credit:Flickr/Dr_neil

Last night at the dinner hosted for researchers at the Wallenberg Centre, at Stellenbosch University, South Africa’s deputy minister of science and technology Derek Hanekom said a target set by his government to give electricity to every household by 2015 was unrealistic.

Since the country’s first democratic elections in 1994 the number of South Africans with access to electricity has increased from 30 per cent to 75 per cent (although reports of the latter figure at the this conference have ranged from 70 per cent to 85 per cent).

But it is the last 25 per cent that will be the hardest to reach, Hanekom said. These are often people in remote villages where connection to the national grid would be very expensive, and thus take longer than most expect.

The situation is even more difficult in the rest of Africa. Just after breakfast this morning, I chanced to meet David Mbah, executive secretary for the Cameroon Academy of Sciences, who told me that rural electrification is a huge challenge in his country.

Mbah said that in his home village of Ashong the government had erected pylons for about 10 kilometres, but there were no electricity cables. Funding, he said, had run out in the government’s electrification plan.

“They came up with the budget, and programmes of action, but for now the programme is stagnant as the government is looking for partners to fund the implementation,” he said.

Munyaradzi Makoni, freelance journalist for SciDev.Net

Don’t forget the jobs!

November 10, 2010

National energy plans should not forget job creation opportunities. Credit: Kuyasa CDM project

Embracing new energy technology without training skilled people to maintain the new gadgets is not the way to go for Africa, South Africa’s science and technology minister, Naledi Pandor, said on Monday night.

“No one has made a provision to repair solar panels when they break down. Skills associated with the positive technology must be made available so that we can confront future problems,” she said.

This morning, Barry Bredenkamp, from the South African National Energy Efficiency Agency, made a similar point.

National energy programmes are fertile ground for job creation, he said. But the South African national energy plan fails to address this issue – something that must be rectified, Bredenkamp said. “In South Africa, and globally, we have a serious unemployment problem.”

South Africa recently set up a Working for Energy programme. This programme aims to marry the rolling out of sustainable energy options in South Africa with job creation, focusing on up-skilling the unskilled. The programme will intentionally choose labour-intensive alternatives to stimulate job creation.

Something for other African countries to consider?

Munyaradzi Makoni, freelance journalist for SciDev.Net

SA energy minister speech

November 10, 2010

South African energy minister Dipuo Peters/ Image credit SA government

South African energy minister Dipuo Peters’ speech from yesterday morning has been published online here. An excerpt is below.

“As renewable technologies become more and more affordable, it will be essential for these technologies to be locally produced so that jobs and skills can be created to improve the quality of life of our countries. We cannot continue to be perpetual consumers of imported goods and services without having a stake in the products that we consume.

“I am told that you will be visiting some of our energy establishments later today. While most of you will be tempted to applaud South Africa for the superb and modern assets we have, please take time to note that these technologies are on average 20 years old.

“We are looking forward to seeing newer, cleaner and more efficient technology establishments that will meet the energy access needs of our children and grand children in the low carbon and greener economies.”

Linda Nordling, SciDev.Net columnist

Joining up science and energy policymaking

November 9, 2010

How does energy fit into the African Union? Credit: Flickr/warrenski

As my blog co-pilot Munya and I were looking around for evidence of joint African policymaking on energy (ahead of the policy roundtable this morning) we stumbled across something interesting.

Last week, the pan-African ministerial grouping on energy – the Conference of Energy Ministers of Africa – met in Maputo, Mozambique. Keen to raise the issue of pan-African policymaking in this forum, we asked the panel of policymakers to explain how energy fits into the African Union.

The answers weren’t great – partly because one of the policymakers at least was from the science and technology arena, rather than the energy one.

One of the important things to emphasise in relation to that is that if academies want their advice to be taken up by governments, they will need to look further than the ministry responsible for science. This is particularly important at the pan-African level, where communication between policy areas is even rarer than at national level.

It would be a shame if African academies’ advisory reports end up gathering dust in on the desk of the rather toothless African Ministerial Council for Science and Technology.

Linda Nordling, SciDev.Net columnist

Namibia science academy takes shape

November 9, 2010

Elmo Thomas, on the left.

Efforts to set up a Namibian academy of natural and social sciences started in earnest this year.

Elmo Thomas, deputy director in the Namibian ministry responsible for science and technology policy development, told me that a steering committee is busy working on the structure of the academy. The steering committee includes academics, higher education officials and other stakeholders.

“Obviously one of our first priorities is to promote networking, within Namibia and the world at large,” said Thomas.

He said the process to establish the academy will go through three phases: the first being the ground work, the second being the establishment of the academy and the third getting it working on projects. He hopes that the first phase will be completed early next year.

For him, the ASADI meeting is a learning experience. “At this meeting we have academies at various stages of development, academies that are two and those that are five years old – it is an opportunity to learn.”

Namibia’s academy may be some time to come – a similar initiative in Ethiopia launched in April this year took almost two years to get off the ground from concept to execution.

The Namibian project is being supported by the Germany Academy of Sciences, the Academy of Sciences of South Africa, the Namibian government and the Network of African Science Academies.

Munyaradzi Makoni, freelance journalist for SciDev.Net

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