State of Adoption: Energy Efficient Appliances/Practices in Africa

For many African countries, Minimum Energy Performance Standards (MEPS) are either absent or loosely regulated. Poor legislation and absent will for enforcement, have now created near-apathy for energy efficient appliances within public and private organizations in the continent.

It appears that both the opportunities and challenges of energy efficient appliances and consumer habits are poorly understood and thus underestimated. There is a frequently quoted rule of thumb, which suggests that $1 investment in energy efficiency delivers $3 in savings for the economy; which sounds like dual benefit for Africa’s energy economy.

Energy efficiency is “energy input per defined output” and it’s a source of significant concern in industrial settings because of equipment such as motors, pumps, compressors, boilers and furnaces. It’s no less important in homes; given widespread low income levels in many households and the sheer difficulty of procuring sufficient energy by the extremely poor households. Technically, there are unavoidable losses in the lifecycle of an energy consuming appliance but the widespread failure to prevent the avoidable losses (both form design considerations and operational efficiency) is the bane of the advocacy for energy efficiency in continents such as Africa.

Amidst the high pitched conversations on Africa’s energy access challenges, the critical issue of energy efficiency appears to be the most neglected. While there are widespread advocacy for clean energy adoption and a relatedly conspicuous campaign for similar issues such as promoting minigrids and off-grid solar energy adoption; efficient appliances and efficient practices are yet to find their strong place in the discus.

The case for providing sustainable energy access in Africa is overwhelming and widely used data often fail to sufficiently paint the graphic and gory situations. Since overall higher energy consumption clearly correlates with higher GDP per capita (for a given country) according to a United Nations data on energy use, the meaningful contributions of efficient appliances in driving economic growth cannot be ignored.

A Textile Company in Africa
A textile company in Africa. | Credit: flickr @worldbank

State of the Discussion

In Africa, the constraints are diverse; from the absence of necessary policies to limited technical knowledge on the part of appliance manufacturers and merchants, on to large scale consumer ignorance on the economic benefits and necessity of energy conservation achievable with efficient appliances and habits. It’s evident that promoting and actualizing widespread adoption of energy efficient appliances within Africa’s will be a markedly distinct task when compared to other regions. Since high levels of illiteracy and absent capacity for domestic production of appliances might make it tough to drive meaningful advocacy at the right scope and scale.

Nonetheless, if the wider public and private sector efforts at improving electricity access in the African region are enhanced and properly coordinated, meaningful and organic gains can be made through greater adoption of efficient appliances and habits. The ubiquity of energy poverty in Africa and the existence of several integrated economic areas (such as ECOWAS and EAC) call for regional collaboration in the development of energy use standard that promote efficiency.

People in Africa Charge Their Electronic Products on a Shoddy Power Strip
People in Africa charge their electronic products on a shoddy power strip. | Credit: flickr @carsten_tb

Minimum Energy Performance (MEP) Standards are critical barriers used to inhibit inefficient appliances from entering the market. Enforcing these standards - if they exist - provide the single most important motivation for product manufacturers/merchants to produce and distribute only efficient and compliant products.

Africa has a superfluous supply of many products that ought to be covered by energy efficiency regulation to ensure that they do meet the minimum regulatory requirements. Household appliances such as televisions and refrigerators used in Africa are imported from South East Asia in a scenario where both manufactures and merchants do realise there is limited/no barrier to market entry, simply because there are no minimum efficiency standards to meet in several countries.

The Commercial Side

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Beyond the critical need to conserve the much limited generated power (in a continent with a notoriously poor generation capacity), energy efficient appliances deliver real economic gains, which is one of the strongest commercial factors that should drive their adoption. ESI Africa reported in 2016 that Ghana was the first in Africa to establish energy efficiency appliance standard and labelling program in the year 2000 and several other countries are yet to follow suit. Efficient appliances deliver lower life time running cost and thus should be advocated for low income, energy-starved households and communities.

Furthermore, there is a chance for efficient appliance manufacturers to compete better in Africa’s energy appliance market. Excluding automobile other very rampant and frequently used appliances such as lighting, refrigerator and televisions have a rapidly growing market in Africa, while cost of running them (conventional models) is rapidly rising in several countries such as Nigeria.

Adoption of Energy Efficient Appliances Can Save Low-Income Household’s Money
Credit: flickr @rod_waddington

Since there are evident costs savings to the consumer, efficient appliances should trump conventional ones, where they are appropriately priced. However market hurdles remain in that the near-virgin state of the efficient appliance market makes it a herculean task for a single brand or a few brands to make meaningful inroads independently. It’s critical therefore, that private sector or market-driven efforts be strongly tied to the requisite legal tools and standards enforcement framework; typically driven by the public sector.

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The promise of energy efficient appliances goes beyond the immediate commercial gains; since significant national reductions in energy use could help lower a country’s carbon footprints. There are several markets in the world where the appropriate legislative tools have helped deliver the essential commercial gains as well as environmental expectations. In 2012, Australia enacted the GreenHouse and Energy Minimum Standards (GEMS) Act, which is a national framework for product energy efficiency that includes MEPS and Energy Rating Labelling (ERL) requirements. Compliance to these standards is compulsory for a range of products in Australia and New Zealand according to Australia’s information sheet.

Therein lays the necessity of instituting proper legal frameworks for driving meaningful adoption of efficient appliances and practices. The frequently advocated use of “all options” for solving Africa’s energy crises, simply means that; the potential gains of energy efficient appliances must be promptly incorporated and collectively pursued.

* Cover image credit: flickr @rod_waddington


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