How green is my President? Liberia's George Weah is leading the shift to clean energy
Updated: Nov 20, 2022
President George Weah came into office against long-standing civil unrest and major socioeconomic challenges. To confront them, he launched a pro-poor agenda, with its key highlight being the provision of clean off-grid energy through solar.
by Laymah Kollie, bird story agency
As soon as he assumed office in 2018, Liberian President George Weah, a global soccer star, decided to embrace renewable energy as part of his bid to effect socio-economic transformation in his country.
His goal, as outlined in his plan, was to "eradicate poverty amongst Liberians who had been traumatised by civil strife and improve economic growth while addressing climate change and infrastructural developments".
To curb the high cost of off-grid solar energy products, Weah, in May 2022, issued an executive order suspending import tariffs on off-grid solar lighting appliances and other indirect solar energy products classified under the Liberian Revenue Code.
This was in line with his commitment to enhancing renewable energy by factoring funding into the budget and encouraging donor support in the sector.
How green is my President? Liberia's George Weah is leading the shift to clean energy [Graphics: Hope Mukami]
The Liberian civil crisis, which occurred from 1990-2003, led to the destruction of electric power infrastructure, property, and national development deterioration, plunging the country into "intense darkness."
Weah embarked on a major street lighting programme in Monrovia and other urban areas.
In 2021, he oversaw the installation of 10,000 Solar street lights and commissioned a 5.2MW solar power plant in Grand Bassa, Lofa, Margibi, Grand Kru, Bong and Bomi counties. The drive not only took an estimated 26,000 residents out of the darkness but economically empowered them to go about their business in a secure environment.
He also launched the Liberia Renewable Energy Access Project in Kolahun district, Lofa county, with support from World Bank. The project was part of the initiative to decentralise electricity production by constructing a 2.5MW hydropower plant plus a 1.8MW diesel facility backup. It will also produce 115km of 33kVT&D network and services connections.
When completed, it is expected to provide electricity to more than 50,000 people, including associations, businesses and public institutions in the country.
Liberia's 2008 census report put the country's population at 3.5 million, with Monrovia constituting 29 per cent of the total population. Though there has not been any census since then, World Bank statistics project that Liberia's population is about 5 million.
Currently, Weah's administration, through the Monrovia Consolidation of Electricity Transmission and Distribution (Light up Monrovia), is providing electricity to approximately 45,000 households and more than 50 communities in Central Monrovia and its surroundings.
According to the Liberia National Electrification Consolidation Report, the country with a land area of 114,000 square kilometres has approximately 140MW of Power Supply, with more than an estimated 1.5 million people having access to electricity in Liberia– this translates to 23 per cent of the country's households.
According to www.macrotrends.net, in 2020, Liberia had 27.53 per cent access to power, an increase of 4.43 per cent from 2019. This is thanks to efforts by the Weah administration, which has emphasised off-grid programmes tapping on solar, a clean and renewable energy source.
Solar energy and hydropower provide the bulk of Liberia's power. The government's efforts are complemented by civil society actors and politicians, who provide solar street lights to communities that lack access to electricity in rural and urban areas.
John Nyemah Natt Jr, a Liberian scientist and climate action expert, commends Weah's commitment to renewable energy but says more can be done:
"He's doing well in addressing the urgent need for electricity in the country. Solar energy is good and reliable when there is more sunlight and less rainfall because solar radiation needs sunlight to be effective. But right now we are experiencing a hurricane that is giving us more rainfall than sunlight, and the solar light will not be more reflective as it should be. From my research, ocean renewable energy is the best and most substantial energy Liberia can use, " he said.
According to Henbrix T Saah, a professor of environmental studies at Monrovia's Cuttington University, the role of the president is key to galvanising the youth and getting them to embrace clean energy.
"Having the president take the lead in achieving renewable energy in the country is great. It serves as an encouragement for young people to join the effort for us to achieve clean energy."
With Liberia's economy beginning to rebound from the 2019 Covid-19 shock and projected to grow at 4.2 per cent from a low of 3.3 per cent in 2020, the need for sustainable and renewable energy sources is even more urgent. And Weah's green agenda, expressed through renewable energy sources, might be just the "magic bullet" the country needs.
bird story agency