X Close

UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources Blog


Discussing global sustainability issues


Energy in Mozambique – a new energy mix

By ucftjm3, on 25 August 2015

image credit Anathalie Musabyemariya

image credit Anathalie Musabyemariya

Access to modern energy, such as electricity, and the services it provides are taken for granted by many of us. Globally, however, there are an estimated 1.3 billion people without access to electricity, and 2.7 billion who rely on traditional biomass for cooking. The use of traditional biomass is associated with well documented impacts on health and wellbeing, which particularly affects women and children. Bringing into sharp relief the deep and persistent global energy inequities, Morgan Bazilian and Roger Pielke Jr. draw attention to the fact that the poorest three quarters of the global population use less than 10% of global energy. Addressing this energy poverty challenge will require concerted and sustained effort, and increasingly constitutes a key area of international governance.

In 2011, Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) was launched. Instigated by Ban Ki-Moon, the UN Secretary-General, SE4ALL aims to achieve three highly ambitious and interlinked objectives by 2030:

  • To provide universal energy access
  • To double the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency
  • To double the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix

Earlier this month, UN Member States agreed on the outcome document that will constitute the new global development agenda to be adopted at the Sustainable Development Summit in September. In recognition of the importance of energy as a stand-alone issue, one of the agreed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) focuses on energy. SDG 7 will ‘ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all’ by 2030. The goal and targets are consistent with the objectives of SE4ALL, and SDG 7 also sets targets to:

  • Enhance international cooperation to facilitate access to clean energy research and technology, and promote investment in energy infrastructure and clean energy technology
  • Expand infrastructure and upgrade technology for supplying modern and sustainable energy services for all

Mozambique, a least developed country, is one place that may benefit from increased international focus on resolving energy inequities. The 2013 UN Human Development Index ranks Mozambique 178 out of 187 countries, and 60% of the population live below the international poverty line of US $1.25 per day. The total population is nearly 26 million, with 70% living in rural areas. In 2013, life expectancy was just 50 years, and 45% of the population was under 14 years of age. On energy, a key target for the Government of Mozambique is electrification. According to the World Energy Outlook, the national electrification rate is 39%, which means that around 15 million Mozambicans do not have access to electricity.

In May and June, I went to Mozambique to undertake a scoping study on (bio)energy. The project was funded by the Supergen Bioenergy Hub, and was a collaboration between UCL-ISR, the University of Leeds, and the United Nations University in Canada. The aim of the project was to conduct a preliminary study on energy in Mozambique, focused specifically on bioenergy from sugarcane. Bioenergy offers a flexible source of renewable energy; it can be produced from multiple crops, as well as agricultural and forestry residues, it may be used by households, communities, and at the provincial or national level, and can be used for heating, cooking, fuel, and electricity generation. In Mozambique, I interviewed government officials, NGOs, private sector and the donor community about the deeply interlinked energy and development challenges facing the country.

Traditional forms of bioenergy, such as wood and charcoal, continue to dominate the energy matrix in Mozambique, and as much as 96% of the population rely on traditional biomass to meet their energy needs.

It is not just in the countryside that traditional biomass dominates. In cities, as much as 80% of households rely on charcoal for their cooking and heating needs. Demand for charcoal is a key driver of deforestation, and charcoal used in the capital city, Maputo, now comes from as far as 500 km away. According to FUNAE (the national fund for rural electrification), 36 million sacks of charcoal are sent to Maputo every year. As a result, the cost of transporting charcoal has increased, which are passed directly to consumers – in the past five years, charcoal has increased from around 350 to 1200 meticales per sack (USD 9.5 to 31). Many households with limited incomes resort to buying smaller amounts of charcoal – even though this means they will pay more in the long run.

The promotion of improved cookstoves (ICS) is a key component of government and donor programmes. Households switching from rudimentary ‘three stone’ fires to more efficient cookstoves (see below) means less fuel is used, resulting in lower costs and improved family health.

While programmes to increase the use of ICS have met with some successes, they still face considerable barriers. Habits, norms and behaviours, cultural preferences, financial barriers, and negative experiences, all influence the adoption and continued use of ICS.

In terms of other forms of bioenergy, the Government of Mozambique has been pursuing biofuels since 2004, but has so far met with little success. Of the 37 biofuel-related projects that applied for licenses between 2008 and 2014, only five are operational today and all remain in the initial pilot phase. The reasons for the failure of biofuel projects are complex and include, policy uncertainty, claims about land grabs, inexperience in feedstock cultivation, and difficulties in commercialising biofuels. The cogeneration of electricity from bagasse – a by-product of sugar processing – holds more promise and it is hoped that the introduction of Feed-in-Tariffs will incentivise investment in this form of bioenergy.

My key learning from this trip is that the theoretical potential of bioenergy are not always realised in distinct social, political, cultural and economic contexts. Further research is required to identify and trial bioenergy technologies and, importantly, to situate these within detailed understandings of national, regional and local contexts in order to ensure they are appropriate to meet energy and other needs. One significant outcome of this study will be the development of a large research proposal, which will build on this initial study in order to address key policy and socio-economic research gaps. With a greater understanding of socio-technical contexts, we can improve local wellbeing and inform the roll out of appropriate and sustainable energy solutions.

Dr Julia Tomei is a Research Associate at the UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources

Leave a Reply