Shifting Africa to 100% Renewable Energies

African countries have the opportunity today to avoid getting locked into dirty, centralised fossil fuels and leapfrog to energy systems that are low-emitting, people-centered and decentralised. This is possible with renewable energies.

It’s no secret that Africa has plentiful sunshine and wind. Many parts of the continent enjoying daily solar radiation of between 4 kWh and 6 kWh per square meter. Africa’s overall wind power potential is estimated at 460 Petawatt hours (PWh), i.e. 460 million millions (460,000,000,000,000) kWh.

Amid such conditions, experts say investments in renewable energies could transform a continent faced with fast-rising populations and increasing demand for energy to support its economic growth. “Six out of the 10 fastest economies in the world (over the past decade) were in Africa, and that requires much more energy, at a faster-growing pace than we’ve seen before,” says Frank Wouters, deputy director-general of the International Renewable Energy Agency.

“Africa is endowed with vast untapped renewable energy resources that can provide electricity for all at an affordable cost.”

The International Renewable Energy Agency

Many African countries have already taken notice. While South Africa is clearly setting the pace, projects are rolled out across the continent as more countries look to unlock their massive renewable energy potential. These are not just small and large-scale utility installations, but also micro or off-grid renewable energy projects that provide access to electricity to communities that conventional energy systems have failed to connect until then.

Yet, despite such ambitious schemes, experts say the continent is far from exploiting its massive green energy potential. According to the International Energy Agency, coal, gas and oil together accounted for 81% of Africa’s total power generation (respectively 46%, 25% and 10%), with nuclear power making up 2%, hydropower 16% and all other renewable sources accounting for just 1%.

Inadequate policies, lack of political commitment, lack of awareness about the current price competitiveness of renewable technologies like solar and wind, inefficiencies in the performance of most power utilities across the continent, financing hurdles… many factors are yet to be overcome for African countries to successfully scale up their renewable energy production and tap onto their clean energy potential.