Renewable Energy in Africa

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Over the past decade, global use of renewable energy sources (solar, wind, hydropower, geothermal, biomass, and biofuel) for generation of electricity has grown significantly, reaching 19% of total power generation in 2010 compared with 14% in 2002. The rise in the use of renewable energy has mainly been driven by increased awareness of effects of climate change and governments’ incentive programs aimed at enhancing the development and the use of green energy.

Africa, however, still lags behind other regions of the world with regard to electricity consumption and generation. Electric power in many African countries is still inaccessible, unaffordable, and highly unreliable. About 90% of the rural population in Sub-Saharan Africa has no access to electricity, with Ethiopia, Kenya, Mali and Sierra Leone among the most severely under-powered. Some USD23 billion per annum (AfDB, 2010)* is needed to meet existing and future demand in this sector. In the absence of massive investments, the continent’s future development is under threat.

Yet Africa is rich in renewable resources and could benefit from the increasing use of renewable energy, such as hydro-power (potential estimated around 1,750 TWh) and geo-thermal energy (estimated at 9,000 MW). Over 80% of the continent receives about 2000 kWh per square meter of solar resources per annum and a solar generating facility covering just 0.3% of North Africa could supply all the energy requirements of the European Union. These energy sources offer a clean alternative to traditional sources of energy, particularly fossil fuels. Thus, the adoption of renewable energy sources for electricity generation in Africa would signal a shift to low-carbon development in the continent. Various African countries have set targets for the share of renewable energy sources. For instance, the governments of Egypt, Ghana, Madagascar, and South Africa respectively set targets of 20%, 10%, 75%, and 13% by 2020 for the share of electricity from renewable sources (Renewable Energy Policy Network, 2009).

Potential benefits of renewable energy to Africa

Renewable energy sources offer numerous benefits ranging from contributing to economic growth through the creation of new enterprises and jobs to mitigating the effects of climate change and providing electricity to rural areas.

The fast global growth of the renewable energy industry would foster economic growth mainly through investment and direct and indirect jobs creation.

According to the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), 26% of the total reduction in carbon emissions worldwide in 2010 was on account of efficiency gains in renewable energy sources. Increasing the share of renewable energy as a source of power generation will likely accelerate further reductions in these emissions.

In rural areas, the transmission and distribution of power generated from fossil fuels is very costly.

Therefore, using off-grid renewable energy sources in rural areas will help increase access to basic services, including lighting, communications, and water pumping. The use of these increasingly affordable technologies would facilitate the integration and development of African rural populations.

Impediments to the development of renewable energy in Africa

Many factors may compromise the development of renewable energy in Africa:

  • Subsidies on fossil fuel-based energy coupled with insufficient access to finance make the adoption of renewable energy sources challenging.
  • Given the low load factor and the high marginal cost of renewable energy plants (compared to other power plants), access to the electricity grid is also restricted and the use of incentivized feed-in tariffs for priority of access to the grid is still limited.
  • Inadequate regulatory and institutional environments in most African countries further impede the development of the renewable energy industry.
  • Moreover, there is still a huge knowledge gap on the potential benefits of renewable energy and many countries consider it a less-reliable energy source compared to traditional fossil fuel power plants.

The renewable energy industry is capital-intensive, with heavy funding requirements for development. In order to catch up with other emerging countries that have succeeded in developing the renewable energy sector, the main priority for African countries would be to gain access to affordable and sustainable financing to develop the industry in its early stage. New innovative financing instruments and public-private partnerships will help stimulate investment in the renewable energy sector. This may require provision of incentivized tariff schemes and adoptions of new regulations allowing for priority of access to the electricity grid. Public awareness campaigns on the attractiveness and beneficial effects of renewable energy as a clean source of electricity should also be undertaken.


Olu Meyanbe - Nigeria 15/08/2016 12:49
Given the numerous benefits of renewable energy, we should find a way to make their financing attractive to commercial banks rather than them investing a large chunk of their deposits in govt bonds and the likes. Commercial banks can participate in small and medium scale power plants financing or a number of them can come together in form of loan syndication to fund large scale power plants.
Kariuki Kiragu - Kenya 07/02/2016 19:16
Renewable Energy Ventures

This is a very powerful piece and its exposure of Africa’s wealth is dizzying.
I hope, in the current rage of Africa powering programs on with renewables, we can meaningfully add our observations.

I find agro-forestry biomass intriguing for all its spin-offs and rather attractive for Africa due to its:

.1 Relatively low-cost in establishment, equipment and processing and use. It can be reduced to tree-planting
.2 Mass sustainable employment at all levels – Unemployment is the biggest security threat in Africa.
.3 Greater amount of local input in skills, equipment and innovation – Basic expertize required already within community lore
.4 Alignment with small scale farming community and family participation.
.5 Blending with food and medicinals production.
.6 Promotion and sustenance of bio-diversity
.7 Active climate change combat and biome water conservation.
.8 Flexibility in and variety of energy and other products.
.9 Gradual consumption upgrading from charcoal, to bio-char to electricity – Synchronized with consumer equipment upgrades
.10 Ready decentralization due to its nature.
.11 Locational advantages almost in any rural area.
.12 Increasingly longer harvest cycles containing more interim products
.13 Sheer visual and experiential aesthetics.
.14 Holistic regulations readily understood by communities

Your thoughts?
Jimias Torovei - Zimbabwe 02/06/2015 11:04
wooooow a great article keep that standard
Oyinkansola - 26/10/2014 03:06
I think that this is a great post. I believe that being aware of the challenges will lead to better solutions.
Jobs in Renewable Energy UK Green - United Kingdom 09/04/2014 13:47
Excellent article, and I totally agree that you have to put out great content that your audience will find valuable on a regular basis.
MAHOMED HASSAN MOHAMED RAZA - Madagascar 27/01/2014 12:34
sans le concours des privés il est difficle de vulgariser cette energie auprés des necessiteux (villageois);Idée est Noble . or le privé ne beneficie pas de finanancements directes. Dommage .
Sam Zeddy - Kenya 21/03/2012 20:51
I take much in renewable energy since conventional source energy is rising so rapidly.
East Lamu is a case I have in mind, given that soon there will be a population of close to 2 million in about 2=3 years.
How can a young company access carbon credit to set smallest plant?
Louis Philippe Wallot - Central African Republic 15/02/2012 10:20
Intéressé par votre article du 13 février 2012, j’aimerais revenir sur l’aspect de l’accompagnement des entreprises de la filière énergie renouvelable éligibles aux financements de la banque africaine de développement.
Les organes d’accompagnement technique des professionnels en énergie renouvelables joue un rôle important sur la productivité des exploitations en garantissant une rentabilité du commerce gage d’un remboursement certain des crédits ou financements obtenus.
Ces organes sont dotés d’une mission aussi bien préventive que curative dans l’exercice des contrôles de conformité par des audits des équipements et installation et dans l’organisation des formations techniques d’appoint en adaptation avec l’évolution technique des équipements.
L’ultime but de l’accompagnement technique demeure la prospérité de la filière en énergie renouvelable.
De part l’expérience acquise en tant formateur et conseil auprès des professionnels français de filière énergie renouvelable, je suis disposé à proposé mes compétences dans le cadre d’une intervention extérieur au profit des services du groupe de la banque africaine de développement.

Dr. Louis Philippe WALLOT
Louis Philippe Wallot - France 14/02/2012 02:04
The delay in development of Africa can only get worse if the Africans are slow to develop several applications of these recommendations implemented at many conferences, debates and forums on the issue's development.
The advent of sustainable development through renewable energy brings a new direction. That the fact that the African continent has immense resources necessary ingredient for sustainable development including renewable energy.
A diverse renewable energy supply unquantified
If Africans (at least their leaders) are aware of renewable energy assets in the continent, many states ignore the potential that their country has. Feasibility reports of renewable energy resources are to drive. This is one that requires financial institutions like Bank Group African Development fund the achievement of such a document.
Promote traditional technologies already the most accessible
Because their technology, access to renewable energy can be very expensive. One can cite the case of solar panels not only very expensive for middle-income African household but also fragile therefore presents a risk some risk. While there are other devices well known, most accessible economic as wooden homes three stones which the variant is environmentally sustainable home improvement. It uses less wood and its users savings of lung diseases caused by smoke. Another example is the enhancement of animal waste in the form of briquettes with high calorific value (), or by the process of anaerobic digestion. These traditional technologies should be promoted by the exchange and dissemination of knowledge and expertise between states.
Facilitate technical support companies
Support the development of renewable energy in Africa requires skilled technical and human resources. It's also accompany industry professionals in renewable energy to their available technical tools. Studies made on the harmonization of technical data remain to be conducted in some African countries.

An energy strategy to optimize
One of the frequent contradictions of energy policy in Africa is the lack of decentralized energy units. This strategy of energy production is quite flexible (eg applicable to a mini hydropower plant) and minimizes transmission losses of energy behind the rising price of energy. It has the advantage of value and make it attractive rural areas often far from the capital and curbing the rural exodus.

Louis Philippe
Dr. en sciences de l'ingénieur
Formateur et expert en énergie renouvelable