Ghana is increasingly leveraging its environment to draw on renewable energy sources in meeting the growing demand for a reliable energy supply.

Ghana is unique in many ways, including its main base for energy supply being renewable. Wisdom Ahiataku-Togobo, Director of Renewable and Alternative Energy at the Ministry of Power, explained, “Ghana relies mainly on hydro, which is renewable energy, and if you look at our fuel sector we rely largely on firewood and charcoal, also a renewable source."

Lake Volta, the largest man made reservoir in the world, has been the primary source of renewable power in Ghana since the 1960s. Its 8,502 sqkm of water comes from the Volta River and flows from the outlets of the dam's three powerhouses into the Atlantic Ocean. The lake was initially formed by the Akosombo Dam as part of a plan originally conceived in 1915, though construction began only in 1961 as the energy hungry aluminum industry developed.

The project was adopted by then-president Kwame Nkrumah. Parliament passed the Volta River Development Act in the same year, establishing the Volta River Authority (VRA) with Nkrumah as its chair. The VRA's primary task was to manage the development of the project, the power station, and the power transmission network. Following completion in 1965, the dam provided electricity for much of the country, as well as for neighboring Togo and Benin. The Lake has become a vital part of the economy, providing ferry routes for cargo and becoming home to Ghana's fish farming industry, producing tilapia for the regional market.

The Akosombo dam currently has an installed capacity of 1,020MW. Another generator on the lake, the Kpong dam, has an installed capacity of 160MW. The third and final dam, the Bui dam, was completed in 2013 by the Sinohydro Corporation Limited. In 2013, according to statistics from the VRA, the three power stations provide 35.8%, 5.6%, and 14.1% of the VRA's 2,830.5MW total installed capacity.

Consistently low levels of water at the dam in recent years has reduced production from the Volta dams and has increased reliance on thermal power plants. Togobo explained how other sources of renewable power still play a key part in Ghana's future. “We still have some pockets of hydro potential that exist and can hopefully be developed." Togbe Afede, President of Asogli State Council, has combined forces with a Zoetic Global, which utilizes its new in-stream auger turbine technology for hydropower production. “The augers, designed to be deployed in fast-flowing rivers, have the potential to revolutionize power generation." It will be the first company to undertake large-scale commercialization of this technology and hopes to generate 100MW from the post-wash section of the Akosombo dam. Other than water, Ghana is blessed with sunshine, which has been key to reaching electrification targets. The access rate to electricity in 2011 was 72%, while that figure reached 80% by end-2015; the goal is to reach 90% by 2020. There are many communities in Ghana on islands on the lake or in the remote bush where connection to the grid is impossible. Solar-powered battery units are key to electrifying such communities, and the government since 2011 has installed 3,000 units. The local power provisions are no doubt important for meeting 90% electrification targets, but with Ghana's power needs expected to increase 10% per annum, projects need to be scaled up. Michael Mikado of PTL Technologies told TBY of the big interest in developing solar farms. At the end of 2015 he was in discussions with three foreign companies interested in 20MW solar farms, and by end-2015, another 20MW solar power plant was poised to come online. The Energy Commission's law states that in order for a solar plant to feed directly into the grid such projects have to provide at least 20MW of power. At the same time, the grid infrastructure is in need of some upgrading, and Mikado explained that although there is much talk about big power projects, a proper energy mix is what is needed. “A solar farm has its own place, but the peak energy requirement is in the evening, and the solar farms we are talking about and constructing have no storage capacity. We have about 100,000 homes in Ghana, and if you put 5KW solar generators with batteries on just 10%, that is 50MW that the grid no longer needs to deliver." Omane Frimpong of Wilkins Engineering has a different approach. He intends to meet industrial daytime demand for energy with solar technology, targeting cement factories in particular. “We know the limitation of solar at the moment is that it is only available during the day. However, I believe that if we can rely on solar during the day, we can preserve the water in our dams to use for power generation during the night." One barrier to this logic is that heavy industry does not have much of an incentive to invest the capital in solar power plants, especially as tariffs from the Electricity Company of Ghana undercut such an investment. Togobo explained that although solar may not be the solution for heavy industry, it could be for commercial buildings, where consumption occurs largely during the daytime. “In our tariff structure, if you are a non-residential consumer and your consumption is more than 600KW hours per month, then you pay as a high as $0.29 per KW hour. Solar costs just about $0.20, so by investing in solar you can cut your bill by about 30%. If you have a system like this, our ministry, for example, where our power demand is about 1.2MW hours daily consumption, you can save money; our panels save us close to $16,000 every year."