Africa’s renewable energy potential

October 14, 2013

Africa is growing rapidly in terms of economy and population. However, to coop with global challenges such as energy access, climate change, biodiversity loss and deforestation, a shift needs to take place towards renewable energy use. ‘Africans currently consume only one quarter of the global average energy per capita, using a mix of hydropower, fossil fuels and biomass’[1]. Indeed, the renewable energy (RE) market has vast potential and the scenario’s are as follows:

-          In 2050, the world can run from 95 to 100% on renewable energy
-          This is based on proven technologies and does not even account future possible technologies
-          The scenario’s are not only feasible, they are also cost effective
-          Decentralization of energy is crucial.

Africa has also a vast potential in terms of geothermal energy, heat pumps, solar energy, biofuels, and (domestic) biogas. Also (micro) hydropower projects are interesting to implement in certain African countries. In addition, renewable energy-based electrification of urban public transport is also a serious alternative to fossil fuels. Generally, RE sources are local and therefore enhance the energy self-sufficiency and decrease fossil fuel imports. Making citizens more independent and free than otherwise the case. The stimulation of RE use is viable and desirable for the electricity, heat and transport sector. Feed-in tariffs and feed-in premiums are standard power purchase agreements with a set price which can stimulate this RE market. Connecting power grids with each other can be done regionally and RE is an economical solution for off-grid and minigird electrification in remote areas[2]. In the meantime, ‘[…] Urban communities can convert municipal and industrial waste into electricity and heat’[3]. Additionally, businesses can become power generators themselves. All in all, ‘[…]renewable energy can significantly contribute to provide energy access in Africa’s growing cities, strengthen power reliability, address local pollution, and improve the performance of businesses and industry’[4].

Because of the still relatively low oil prices, most RE technologies cannot compete with fossil fuels. This is however changing. On the one hand since the RE technologies are becoming cheaper and more efficient, on the other hand since oil prices are rising again and are expected to reach 125 US$/barrel crude oil in 2014, a price for which even small-scale biofuel production becomes attractive again. Hampering unfortunately are the fossil fuel subsidy policies present in many countries, particularly those that have their own oil and gas reserves (e.g. Bolivia, Indonesia). Such policies are hard to abolish because of their strong political consequences and they are very detrimental to RE development. Recent discoveries of oil and gas in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania make us fear the worst. Subsidies for RE deployment, on the contrary, hardly exist in developing countries.

Generally, it is more difficult to convince national governments for the need to invest in RE, whereas regional and local governments (particularly where the grid is unreliable) see the advantages and are more willing to stimulate it. However, the private sector is increasingly becoming active in producing low cost energy devices. Also the price of solar panels is rapidly decreasing and their efficiency is improving (50% of the price 10 years ago. E.g. Wakawaka). Several big companies have developed improved cook stoves programs (Phillips, Shell, Siemens/Bosch). Standardization of models and approaches is being sought, also through the creation of knowledge and implementation networks such as the Global Alliance for Clean Cooking Stoves (GACC) and the Global Alliance for Productive Biogas (GAPB). More banks and microfinance institutions are developing financial products for renewable energy technology purchases.

So there is hope for the RE market, but more stimulation, investments, and regulations are necessary[5]. Let’s make this transition happen!  



[1] IRENA. (2013). Africa’s Renewable Future. The Path to Sustainable Growth. Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. P. 5.  

[2] IRENA. (2013). P. 9.

[3] IRENA. (2013). P. 18.

[4] IRENA. (2013). P. 20.

[5] IRENA. (2013); Hivos (2013). Hivos kiest wereldwijd voor 100% duurzame energie; Hivos. (2013). Annual plan. 


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