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Opinions of Thursday, 5 July 2012

Columnist: Sakyi, Kwesi Atta

Rural Electrification, Alternate Energy, Green Books

and the Digital Divide in Ghana

By Kwesi Atta Sakyi 1st July 2012

Today marks 52 years since Ghana was declared a republic in 1960 and we became a sovereign nation in the comity of nations. It beggars belief that since the Akosombo Hydro Electric Dam was completed in 1966, we still have some Ghanaians in the villages and rural areas who are not connected to the national grid. Consider the fact that we cannot boast of any substantial manufactures yet our domestic demand for power far outstrips the supply. We have our government on its toes trying to diversify our energy sources yet to no avail and power blackouts in the cities and towns are a daily occurrence. How can we push forward Our Better Ghana agenda? We cannot compare ourselves to countries like Nigeria or Kenya or Zimbabwe in Africa, which have substantial manufacturing plants. In Ghana, even toilet rolls and safety pins are all imported. What then will happen to us if we start being self sufficient by setting up import-substitution industries? I guess power outages will grow exponentially. It is however, comforting that our previous governments and the current one have recognised the critical and dire need for alternate power sources and all systems are in top gear to address and ameliorate the power deficit. For example, the West African

Gas Pipeline is ongoing. There is the Aboadze Thermal Power Plant, and the Bui H.E.P. station is nearing completion, after decades of stalling. In Israel, they make use of tidal power while in Netherlands and Spain they have wind farms to tap wind energy. In New Zealand and parts of North America, Iceland, among others, they tap geothermal energy from subterranean sources. In Brazil, ethanol is being extracted from sugar cane, cassava and maize. However, these food sources pose a threat to global food security as competing uses of food items sees their prices sky-rocketing. In India, biogas and biomass are being used, by tapping into waste products of animals and the use of human excreta. Our Ghanaian villages are not lacking in the supply of these raw materials. Currently, experiments are ongoing with hybrid cars which run on water, electricity, ethanol and other energy sources. Our technology students in Ghana should also take part in these experiments to come up with appropriate technology for Ghana. Fossil fuels such as petrol, diesel, paraffin, gas and coal are fast being depleted and besides, they are the major cause of global warming, as the discharge of methane and butane gases from them causes the green house effect, leading to hazards like smog, acid rain and ozone layer depletion. The discovery and exploitation of oil in Ghana is welcome news

in the short to medium term, but then we must realise that these are wasting assets or non renewable resources, or what geographers term robber economy. It is recommended that some of the earnings from oil be set aside for research into alternative sources of energy, such as solar energy which is ubiquitous and cheaper in the long run. To go solar is to go green because there will be no toxic discharges into the atmosphere, and the supply is all year round in situ, in loco. Many energy experts consider solar energy the cleanest and safest source of energy, while fossil fuels are the dirtiest and most polluting. The most dangerous but most economic and potent source of energy is nuclear. The recent nuclear disaster in Fukushima Prefecture in Japan is a case in point. Many countries such as Germany are thinking of decommissioning and demobilising their nuclear plants because of high security concerns over hazards such as safe disposal of nuclear waste, radiation and nuclear explosions, resulting from natural disasters such as earthquakes (cf. Chernobyl). In Ghana, the Kwabenya Nuclear Plant was established in the 60s for peaceful research such as in the fields of agriculture and nuclear medicine. So far, no attempt has been made to produce electricity in Ghana from nuclear energy, despite our high energy deficit.

If we could establish solar panels in all our village schools in Ghana, then we would be getting closer to closing the digital divide and the internet disconnect between urban dwellers and the ruralites. Recently in Zambia, I was part of a launch of a project which has empowered the pupils of Katuba Basic School in Lusaka rural to access the internet. Sponsors from the International School of Lusaka, GreenContributors of Canada and India, and some partner schools in the USA and Zambia fundraised to provide the solar panels and a number of laptops to the school. The teachers and pupils in the school are now going to be able to tap into the limitless ocean of information contained in the world wide web (www) or virtual global library online. I am aware of the e book or Kindle project in Ghana which is innovative. We can considerably become greener if we resort to e books by empowering schools with solar panels and laptops. That is the challenge we face now in bridging the digital divide in Ghana. We call upon all and sundry to help provide alternative energy sources in our rural communities so that our youngsters can access the internet. This approach will reduce significantly our annual expenditure on supply of hardcopy textbooks which are not eco-friendly. I think our educational policy makers will accelerate the e book concept for it to spread to the nooks and crannies of rural Ghana. Last month June saw the assembly in Rio de Janeiro for the Earth Summit, where more than 5000 summiteers, conferees and attendees congregated to ponder once more threats to our environment. I am sure many resolutions were made and I am sure the issue of e-learning and e-books was paramount in their ponderous deliberations. I hope our governments will work strenuously to implement the resolutions and outcomes of the Conference.


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