The importance of renewable energy sources for Africa’s development
Jul 17th 2012
Africa’s strong economic performance over the past two decades has translated into ever-increasing energy demands across the continent. At the same time, water, wind, sun and biofuel stocks are abundant on the continent—and so far largely untapped. For example, only about 7% of Africa’s enormous hydro potential has been harnessed. Countries need efficient and cost-effective ways by which to harness these resources, as they are best positioned to fulfill the needs of Africa’s large rural population, which can only be reached in the medium term by a combination of on-grid, mini-grid, and off-grid technologies. Moreover, these renewables can be employed on the necessary scale to avoid reliance on costly small-scale national power systems, which are heavily reliant on oil-based generation.
If industrial and economic development continues to sustain accelerated growth, Africa’s emissions may increase significantly—unless the continent can leapfrog to clean industrial development and a low-carbon economy. As a latecomer to industrial development, Africa will not have to pay the high adjustment costs that developed economies must pay to transition to a low-carbon path. Concrete actions are needed to assist the continent in charting out a sustainable path to low-carbon development while giving more of its people access to energy. Africa has the opportunity to power its development with clean energy and deserves assistance to do so.
The African Development Bank (AfDB) advocates balancing the use of low-carbon-intensive technologies with options that will keep energy secure and affordable. Although the cost of installing clean energy generation has decreased sharply in the past 10 years, clean technology has not yet reached grid parity. As long as the primary energy mix is biased toward low-cost fossil fuels, balancing the technology mix will require leadership and advocacy.