Renewable Energy Is About To Boom In Africa, And We Need To Pay Attention To It


Lyndsey Gilpin, Contributor

November 5, 2015

It’s an incredibly exciting time for Africa, and the world is finally starting to take notice.

Two out of every three people in sub-Saharan Africa live without electricity, according to the US government’s Power Africa statistics. It’s a daunting problem to solve, but there is a silver lining: how quickly that number is going to drop as renewable energy — particularly solar — becomes more prevalent and accessible on the continent.

In the last year, several reports have been released detailing the potential and predicted growth for Africa’s renewable energy sector. This is just adding to the momentum of the booming tech scene in Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, and the rapidly growing class of young, innovative people.

So, it’s important to know about growth of renewables in Africa. Here are four takeaways from the reports to get you up to speed.

1. The potential for renewables in Africa is staggering

The International Renewable Energy Agency released a report in early October called “Africa 2030,” which highlighted some of the incredible growth the continent will see in the coming decade and a half.

Renewable energy can more than quadruple by 2030 to 22 percent, compared to today’s level of about 5 percent, the report found.

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“Today most of the renewable energy in Africa is in the form of traditional biomass used in households for cooking and in the manufacturing industry for process heating,” said Dolf Gielen, director of IRENA’s Innovation and Technology Centre. “However, we found four key modern renewable energy technologies with the highest deployment potential for 2030. These include biomass for cooking, hydropower, wind, and solar power.”

Some of the most cost-competitive photovoltaic projects worldwide are already in Africa. For example, the utility-scale solar in South Africa has a generation cost of $0.075 per kilowatt hour, and Gielen added that IRENA expects northern, eastern, and southern Africa to derive power from wind and hydro as well. We expect that North, Eastern and Southern Africa can all derive renewable power from other sources, such as wind and hydro.

There’s quite a bit of evidence to support this, besides the fact that Africa is a no-brainer for solar development. According to McKinsey & Company’s Brighter Africa report released earlier this year, with solar potential included, there is 10 terawatts of energy potential on the continent. A quarter of the electricity is predicted to come from renewable energy by 2040.

What’s more is that some of the technologies that are being deployed in Africa are the most advanced in the world. For example, concentrating solar power in South Africa — which uses mirrors to concentrate energy from the sun that drives traditional steam turbines or engines that the create electricity — is being deployed at a large scale and is one of the first experiments with the technology in the world.

2. Investors are all over sub-Saharan Africa’s solar potential 

“Governments and investors are beginning to realize this opportunity, as witnessed by rapidly growing investments in modern renewables, for example in the power sector,” Gielen said.

Frost & Sullivan recently found that development of grid-connected solar, wind, and geothermal power projects have potential in South Africa, Tanzania, Namibia, Kenya, Zambia, Nigeria and Ethiopia, as well as Ghana and the Ivory Coast. The report showed that solar photovoltaic is the most popular technology, but wind, geothermal, and concentrated solar also has potential.

Experts expect that Africa will go through a competitive bidding process to develop these operations, and governments in Africa are making ambitious renewable energy targets to match.

3. It could completely revolutionize the African economy

Earlier this year, IRENA released its 2015 Renewable Energy and Jobs Annual Review. It showed that more than 7.7 million people are now employed by renewable energy worldwide. That’s an 18 percent increase from last year, and 35 percent increase from two years ago. The data also showed that renewable energy creates more jobs than fossil fuel. For example, solar creates at least twice the number of jobs per unit of electricity generated with coal or natural gas.

Those employment figures remain relatively low in Africa, with the exception of Kenya, Morocco and South Africa.

“However, if investment needs are met, an average USD 70 billion per year will spread across the continent for different technologies across the supply chain,” Gielen said. “This means new jobs and opportunities for the African population.”

McKinsey & Company released a report earlier this year that predicted sub-Saharan Africa will consume almost 1,600 terawatt hours by 2040, four times what was used in 2010. That’s based on a fivefold increase in GDP, a doubling of population, electricity-access levels reaching more than 70 percent by then, and increased urbanization.

4. And that means huge social, cultural, and lifestyle changes

According to UNICEF, in the next 35 years, 1.8 billion babies will be born in Africa. The population will double in size and the number of kids under 18 will reach a billion. That’s a lot of energy demand, and renewables can help answer it, leading to more energy for transportation, modern cooking solutions, and modern technology.

The IRENA report estimated that a shift to modern renewable energy cooking solutions would reduce the use of traditional cookstoves by more than 60 percent, saving up to $30 billion annually.

“Modern renewable energy will provide a prominent alternative to support the African population, which is striving for better living standards, more comfort, and fewer health hazards and avoiding extreme inconveniences,” Gielen said.

In addition, it means more rural community development, allowing access to energy sources.

“The use of small-scale renewables systems to meet demand may not make a major difference in the overall energy mix in Africa, but social benefits and new economic opportunities could be enormous,” he added.

This article was written by Lyndsey Gilpin from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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