Dr Joseph Oteng-Adjei, Minister of Energy, on Thursday underscored the importance of harnessing the vast potential of modern bioenergy and biofuel in particular as alternative sources of renewable energy in Ghana.
He noted that the contribution of modern fuels in the total energy mix of Ghana had been modest, adding that hydropower and petroleum products accounted for less than 35 per cent of total energy used in the country, while wood fuel in the form of firewood and charcoal were still dominant and accounted for 65 per cent of total energy consumption.
Dr Oteng-Adjei was addressing participants at the opening of a three-day workshop on the production of non-food, bio-oil supply chain for renewable energy in Ghana.
The workshop, which is being organised under the African Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of State Science and Technology Programme for member countries, is to enhance capacities of countries, share ideas and help identify the right options and approaches in line with best practices for developing biofuel potentials and further propose concrete measures to develop the industry.
The Energy Minister expressed worry that the use of renewable energy in the form of solar, wind and biofuel was almost negligible even though the sources were abundant.
He said that Government was, however, putting in every effort to mitigate the effect of the oil production on climate change.
Dr Oteng-Adjei said Government was also committed to increasing the contribution of renewable energy to the national energy mix and to support sustained regeneration of woody biomass resources through re-aforestation programmes.
He said the Ministry of Energy had established a Renewable Energy Directorate to develop and implement policies and strategies for the promotion of all forms of renewable energy resources and achieve 10 per cent contribution of modern renewable energy services in the electricity generation mix by the year 2020.
Dr Oteng-Adjei said the Directorate was expected to give special attention to the development of renewable energy technologies for heat and transport fuels including biofuels for export and focus on reducing the dependence on wood fuel for energy services.
He also stressed that when passed into law, the Renewable Energy Law would provide the regulatory framework and fiscal incentive to attract private investment into the sector.
Dr Oteng-Adjei noted that even though the biofuel market worldwide was now evolving and not cost competitive even with crude oil prices, the global market for biofuel was potentially driven and relied on incentives and tax rebates.
He said: "Biofuel prices on the world market have always been about one-and-a-half to two times the price of fossil diesel and it is unlikely that the mass production of biofuel in Ghana will significantly reduce the local price of diesel fuel or provide a cheaper alternative to fossil diesel, given the export market value of the product."
Dr Oteng-Adjei said Ghana's land cover and climate presented a promising local and export opportunity in alternative energy production, especially as more than 50 per cent of the land cover and climate were suitable for biofuel production.
He said Ghana could greatly benefit form alternative energy production, considering the recent Climate Change Mitigation policy initiatives, which emanated from the Kyoto Protocol and other regional legislation to increase biofuel production and use in industrialised counties.
The Minister said, however, that this would only be achieved if the right options and approaches were adopted for commercial cultivation for export purposes.
"Government also recognises the strategic role that commercial biofuel production and export could play in the nation's economy, particularly in the area of job creation and foreign exchange earnings, considering the fact that the vast majority of Ghanaians already have agricultural skills and the only ingredient left is a pragmatic approach that will bring real benefits to Ghana and other developed countries", said Dr Oteng-Adjei.
He said to ensure success, the Ministry of Energy had mandated the Energy Commission to collaborate with related sectors to develop a regulatory and policy strategy that would ensure that commercial production of biofuel did not only lead to increasing food production, but also have other commercial and social benefits directly to local communities as it was in the case of Cocoa.
Professor Ernest Aryeetey, Vice Chancellor of the University of Ghana, in a speech read for him, said with the current problem of climate change there was an urgent need to find alternate sources of energy.
He said in Ghana, jatropha had been identified as a potential alternative source of fuel and also an employment opportunity to many people in rural communities.
Prof. Aryeetey said the University would continue to support the quest for alternative sources of energy by creating the enabling environment for researches to utilize their facilities to ensure quality outcomes.
Prof. Patricia Harvey, Head of Bioenergy Research of the University of Greenwich, United Kingdom, warned that if the world continued to follow current energy policies, there would soon be great chaos as far as climate change was concerned, considering the amount of carbon dioxide that was emitted into the atmosphere.
She advocated for pragmatic approaches and sustained efforts to the introduction of alternative sources of energy such as jatropha as biofuel.
The ACP project, which covers a 36-month period, has countries such as South Africa, Namibia, Ghana, Italy and the United Kingdom participating in a series of workshops and seminars to enhance capacities and form strong networks for exchange of ideas.