Renewable energy in Africa

The International Renewable Energy Agency recently released its Africa 2030: Roadmap for a Renewable Energy Future report. The report details the fact that Africa has significant potential to implement renewable energy – and can benefit greatly from the technology.

Africa’s economy is growing at an unprecedented speed. One of the core challenges as African countries continue to grow and develop is energy – and in particular, meeting rising demand for power in an economically sustainable way.

To meet expected economic growth, changing lifestyles and the demand for reliable energy access, Africa’s overall energy output will have to double by 2030. Electricity generation alone may have to triple. Africa is richly endowed with renewable energy sources, and the time is right for sound planning to ensure the right energy mix. Decisions made today will shape the continent’s energy use for decades to come.

Renewable energy use grows
The world is increasingly embracing modern renewable energy technologies. For many years, these have been supported because of environmental and energy security concerns but, in a rising number of situations, they are now seen as the most economical option. The use of modern renewables is growing in Africa, and fostering this growth is imperative. African countries are in a unique position because they have the potential to leapfrog the traditional centralised-utility model for energy provision.

View the full ‘Africa 2030: Roadmap for a Renewable Energy Future’ report

The Africa 2030 report is part of the International Renewable Energy Agency’s (IRENA) global Renewable Energy Roadmap (REmap) 2030 analysis, which sets out the plan to double the share of renewables in the world’s energy mix within the next 15 years. It is based on a country-by-country assessment of energy supply, demand, renewable-energy potential, and practical technology choices for households, industry, transport and the power sector.

The Africa 2030 analysis has identified modern renewable technology options across sectors and countries that can collectively contribute to 22% of Africa’s total final energy consumption (TFEC) by 2030, a four-fold increase from 5% in 2013. There are four key modern renewable energy technologies with high deployment potential in Africa: biomass for cooking, hydropower, wind and solar power.

The power sector presents a significant opportunity to be transformed through the increased deployment of renewable energy technologies. The share of renewables in the generation mix could grow to 50% by 2030 if the REmap options in the Africa 2030 report were implemented. Hydropower and wind would each reach around 100 gigawatt (GW) capacity, followed by solar at about 70GW.

For the power sector, this would result in a tenfold renewable energy capacity increase from 2013 levels. It would bring about a reduction by 2030 of 310 megatons of carbon dioxide in emissions from the baseline scenario. In all regions of Africa except the north, hydropower will play an important role. North, East and Southern Africa can all derive renewable power from other sources such as wind energy, while concentrating solar power (CSP) is likely to feature strongly in North Africa.

Additional renewable power capacity is expected from geothermal sources in East Africa, while solar photovoltaics (PV) will be important in the North and Southern Africa. This transformation would require on average US$70 billion (R950 billion) a year of investment between 2015 and 2030. Within that total, about US$45 billion (R610 billion) would be for generation capacity.

The balance of US$25 billion (R340 billion) would be for transmission and distribution infrastructure. With the REmap Options implemented, two-thirds of the total investment for generation capacity – US$32  billion (R435 billion) – would come from renewables options. Realising this opportunity would create significant new business activity in Africa.

While the power sector is the most visible candidate for an energy transformation, opportunities in the heating and transport sectors are also significant. A complete overhaul of Africa’s energy supply will require increased renewable energy penetration across the three sectors, and would provide enormous socio-economic benefits. One of the main advantages would be reduced reliance on the traditional use of biomass – typically foraged wood in inefficient cookstoves.

Modernising biomass use would release women and children from the chore of foraging for firewood, improve human health, and be beneficial to the economy. REmap has identified options that lower the use of traditional cookstoves by more than 60% from 2013 to 2030. This would significantly reduce the health hazards of indoor air pollution, translating to a reduced external cost of between US$20 billion (R272 billion) and US$30 billion (R408 billion) in 2030. The benefits of such action would thus far exceed the cost.

While the resource base varies for renewables in Africa, all of its countries do have significant renewables potential. Their biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar and wind resources are amongst the best in the world. The abundance and high quality of renewable-energy resources render renewables economically competitive, particularly as the cost of renewable technologies is rapidly decreasing. Recent renewable-energy project deals concluded in Africa will deliver power at some of the lowest costs worldwide.

Modern renewables also offer great potential for empowering local communities. These resources could be harnessed locally on a small scale, contributing to rural development and electrification without the cost of extending national grids to remote places. Local projects also offer economic opportunities to locals.

Needed: policy direction
Many African leaders have identified the opportunity that renewables presents for their nations, and national energy plans and announced targets reflect this vision. As power sectors and institutional frameworks mature, regulatory policies such as auctions and net metering are likely to be introduced.

Policies are needed to entice private capital, including public-private partnerships, to share costs and risks, and build capacity in local financial sectors to increase access to loans and other forms of financing.

Cross-border cooperation vital
Regional cooperation is crucial to bringing about efficiencies and economies of scale by deploying renewable energy technologies in a coordinated manner. Such an approach is particularly effective in large-scale deployment of shared renewable resources for power generation. Adopting an integrated approach to trans-boundary issues such as trade, regulatory frameworks and policies, regional infrastructure and other cross-border issues would allow countries to benefit from accessing regional renewable resources at affordable prices.

Creating an enabling environment for renewables in Africa requires finding the right mix of policies and incentives and multi-stakeholder collaboration at countrywide and regional levels. – Lloyd Phillips