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Africa’s readiness for renewable energy: a Continent on the path to sustainability

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Picture: Supplied – Wind turbines. Africa boasts exceptional renewable energy potential due to its abundant natural resources. We’re blessed with vast solar exposure, particularly in the Sahel region, where solar irradiation (hours and strength of sunlight) levels are among the highest in the world, the writer says.

By Dominic Naidoo

Renewable energy has emerged as a global imperative, offering a sustainable solution to the environmental challenges posed by dirty fossil fuels. With its abundant resources and immense potential, Africa stands at the precipice of a renewable energy revolution.

This article explores the readiness of the African Continent, with a particular focus on South Africa, to embrace and harness the power of renewable energy.

According to a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers, 2020 saw the Continent produce 9 percent of its energy from renewable sources, with 6.8 percent of that derived from hydropower. But much progress is being made.

From 2019 to 2020, solar and wind capacity increased by 13 percent and 11 percent, respectively, while hydropower soared by 25 percent.

By examining the region’s renewable energy potential, current initiatives, challenges, and opportunities, we can gain insights into Africa’s readiness for a clean energy transition.

Africa boasts exceptional renewable energy potential due to its abundant natural resources. We’re blessed with vast solar exposure, particularly in the Sahel region, where solar irradiation (hours and strength of sunlight) levels are among the highest in the world.

The Continent also boasts significant wind resources, particularly along the coastline, making it an ideal location for wind farms. Hydroelectric potential exists along major rivers such as the Congo and Zambezi. Geothermal energy, biomass, and tidal power also hold promise in specific regions.

Africa has made significant strides in embracing renewable energy, reflecting its commitment to a sustainable future. The Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (REIPPPP) in South Africa has been instrumental in driving the growth of renewable energy.

This programme has successfully attracted numerous private investments in wind and solar power, leading to increased generation capacity and reduced reliance on fossil fuels and, ultimately, a reduced reliance on the utterly unreliable Eskom.

Beyond SA, other African countries have also demonstrated their commitment to renewable energy. Morocco’s Noor-Ouarzazate Solar Complex is a shining example of large-scale solar energy deployment.

Kenya has established itself as a leader in geothermal energy, with the Olkaria Geothermal Power Plant serving as a testament to its efforts. Additionally, countries like Egypt, Rwanda and Ghana have initiated solar energy projects to diversify their energy mix and reduce carbon emissions.

The PwC report also indicates that growth in the near future will be led by “solar and wind projects in Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco and Ethiopia”.

North Africa is the current leader on the Continent in terms of renewable energy capacity and is likely to stay in this position when factoring in the capacity currently under construction.

The largest increase when all under construction projects are completed will be seen in Central Africa, where the capacity is set to more than double.

West Africa, on the other hand, has very little in the way of new capacity around the corner, with just 100 MW under construction at the time of publication, compared to the 15,201 MW in Central Africa, for example.

While Africa possesses immense potential for renewable energy, several challenges must be addressed for its successful implementation.

One significant obstacle is the lack of adequate infrastructure, including transmission and distribution networks, necessary to support large-scale renewable energy deployment. Insufficient investment in grid expansion and modernisation hampers the integration of renewable sources into the existing energy infrastructure.

Another challenge lies in securing financing for renewable energy projects. Limited access to capital and high upfront costs hinder the development of renewable energy initiatives, particularly in countries with constrained budgets.

However, innovative financing mechanisms, such as green bonds and international partnerships, can help address this challenge and attract the necessary investments.

Ensuring a skilled workforce capable of designing, installing, and maintaining renewable energy systems is crucial. Capacity building and training programmes should be implemented to develop a local talent pool, fostering job creation and economic growth.

Despite these challenges, Africa presents immense opportunities for renewable energy development. The decentralised nature of renewable sources allows for off-grid solutions, benefiting remote communities with limited access to conventional electricity.

Renewable energy projects also offer opportunities for technology transfer, promoting knowledge sharing and fostering local innovation.

Africa, as a Continent, is on the cusp of a renewable energy revolution. With abundant solar, wind, hydro, and geothermal resources, the potential for clean energy production is vast. Through initiatives like the REIPPPP in South Africa and various projects across the Continent, Africa is already making significant progress in embracing renewable energy.

Moving to clean energy is key to combating climate change, yet in the past five years, the energy transition has stagnated.

According to findings by the World Economic Forum, global energy consumption and production contribute to two-thirds of emissions with 81 percent of the global energy system still based on fossil fuels, the same percentage as 30 years ago.

Adding to the crisis is that improvements in the energy intensity of the global economy, the amount of energy used per unit of economic activity, are slowing. In 2018 energy intensity improved by 1.2 percent, the slowest rate since 2010.

Benchmarking progress is essential to a successful transition. The World Economic Forum’s Energy Transition Index shows that the biggest challenge facing energy transition is the lack of readiness among the world’s largest emitters, including US, China, India and Russia.

The 10 countries that score the highest in terms of readiness account for only 2.6 percent of global annual emissions.

Effective policies, private-sector action and public-private co-operation are needed to create a more inclusive, sustainable, affordable and secure global energy system.

Dominic Naidoo is an environmental activist and writer

This article was written exclusively for The African. To republish, see terms and conditions.