Ghana’s energy crisis: Biotechnology as a tool for sustainable energy production

Authors: Joseph Nzeh and Yahaya Sumara Sulley
(Department of Biotechnology, University for Development Studies, Tamale)

According to the 2019 Chairs summary of The International Energy Agency, African countries are expected to attain SDG7, energy security, by encouraging sustainable and clean energy production and transitions in the coming decades (1). In Ghana, approximately 83% of the total population had access to electricity as of 2018 (2). Comparatively, this places Ghana ahead of other neighbouring West African countries, in terms of both urban and rural electrification.

Nonetheless, unreliable electricity supply has masked the government’s effort and success in extending electricity to most parts of the country. The intermittent supply of electricity has become a perennial challenge of the country since 1984 (3) and this has yielded to the popular term ‘Dumsor.’

The energy commission ACT (541) is the framework for regulating and managing laws, objectives, and policies within Ghana’s energy sector, with key policies and objectives such as “achievable universal access to modern energy by 2020”. In 1990, The National Electrification Scheme [NES] (4) policy was instituted. This policy aimed to supply electricity to all parts of the country by 2020 however, the attainment of this objective and the reliability of the power supply seems questionable today.

The government of Ghana has relied on other policies such as The Strategic National Energy Plan [SNEP] (5) with the aim to solve the energy crisis using medium-sized hydropower, mini-hydro power, and renewable energy sources mainly fossil and biofuels (solid waste), wind farm, fuel cells and solar energy to supply electricity throughout the country from 2006 to 2020 .

Only a few months left for the stipulated fourteen years of strategic planning in the energy sector however, the issue of energy supply and demand in the country seems to be more problematic with time. The efforts have been challenging because of financial difficulties and the government’s inability to pay debts owed to providers of crude and natural thermal oils for electricity generation. Therefore, new and affordable ways of generating electricity, if available, should bolster the government’s efforts to achieve nationwide access to an affordable and reliable electricity supply. Biotechnology may contribute to sustainable and reliable energy production.

Biotechnology is basically technology that harnesses the potential of biological system in the environment. It is applied in agriculture, health, energy, and industrialization. In Ghana, the agricultural sector has benefitted from biotechnology over the years, through hybrid seeds and breeding programs.

However, in the energy sector, Ghana lags behind the global pace at exploiting the full potential of biotechnology. As part of the measures to solve the energy crisis in Ghana, policy makers and respective institutions can leverage on the potential of this field of science to improve upon the current energy crisis of the supply side of the energy sector to adequately serve the residents, commercial services, agriculture and fisheries, industry and transport services.

The way forward

Biotechnological options are prudent alternatives to improving the power crisis in Ghana, considering that the natural resources which are good sources of electrical power are produced in abundance in the country. Various stakeholders including IMANI Center for Policy and Education and the Africa Center for Energy Policy (ACEP) have recommended the use of biogas and other renewable forms of energy for the supply of clean and affordable energy.

Just like the importation of crude oil into the country, newly discovered stable biological systems (microbial fuel cells) through biotechnology, which is capable of treating waste, and generating electricity is a prospective effort to ending Ghana’s energy crisis.

Biofuels that power engines, and at the same time renewable, can be produced from plants such as corn and soybeans. The potential of these plants if exploited through efficient scientific research will help solve the energy crisis in the country.

In Ghana, starchy plants are produced in abundance. These plants serve as the most significant source of biofuels. The energy (biofuel) from these sources can be harnessed to help minimize the cost involved in generating and supplying energy across the country.

Also, for automobile usage and electrical power generation, fuels made from non-edible cellulosic biomass with less carbon dioxide emission without competing with man’s food should be relied upon.

More research need to be conducted by tertiary institutions in Ghana that offer programmes in biotechnology and other respective biotechnology-based research centres, including the University of Ghana Biotechnology center and the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission. It is exigent that biotechnology departments that are found in state universities redirect their focus to producing students who will solve challenges from the local level to the global level with the knowledge acquired instead of aligning them to their areas of research.

Finally the cooperation between politicians, policymakers and scientists and researchers should ensure the implementation of effective regulations and reliable policies to achieving sustainable, affordable and clean energy.


  1. IEA (International Energy Agency). Africa Energy Outlook 2019: World Energy Outlook Special Report. EA Publications. 2019.
  2. Simona Manna. Ghana’s challenges: access to electricity and renewables [Internet]. About Energy, 2018 [cited 2020 Aug 21]. Available from: https://www.aboutenergy.com/en_IT/interviews/ghana-challenges-access-to-electricity-renewables-eng.shtml
  3. Kumi Ebenezer. The Electricity Situation in Ghana : CGD Policy Paper 109 September 2017. Electr Situations Ghana Challenges Oppor. 2017.
  4. National Electrification Scheme (NES) Review And Preparation Of Master Plan 2011-2020 for Ghana | AEA [Internet]. [cited 2020 Aug 21]. Available from: http://arthuradvisors.com/?page_id=408
  5. Strategic National Energy Plan (SNEP) 2006-2020 | Climate Change Data Hub [Internet]. [cited 2020 Aug 21]. Available from: https://climatedatahubgh.com/strategic-national-energy-plan-snep-2006-2020/

Featured image source: Wikimedia Commons, Allison Stillwell / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)

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