Africa’s renewable energy potential

An energy deficit has effectively stunted Africa’s development, with an estimated 70 percent of people in sub-Saharan Africans without reliable access to electricity.

In Gabon and Nigeria for example, manufacturing struggles as electricity remains costly and inconsistent. According to the African Development Bank (AfDB), manufacturers in sub-Saharan Africa experience an average of 56 days of shutdown time per year due to power outages.

Fossil fuel-based power generation is the most expensive form of energy globally, yet it is the largest source of electricity generation in Africa.

This is the least of concern for a continent simply trying to boost its total power capacity from the current 147 GW, according to the African Development Bank, which is equivalent to the total capacity installed in Belgium, and what China installs every one to two years.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), sub-Saharan Africa will require more than $30 billion in investment to achieve universal electricity by 2030. Rural sub-Saharan Africa will require the vast amount of the funds, with more than 85 percent of those living in rural areas lacking access to reliable electricity.

An emerging concern for carbon emissions and sustainable development has created an opportunity for renewable energy on the continent. Recognizing the opportunity and challenges, regional bodies, including the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), have developed rural renewable energy development agendas.

ECOWAS member countries have established the Center for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (ECREEE), forming strategic development pacts with several international organizations that includes the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).

ECOWAS members target nearly 20 percent for the renewable makeup of energy by 2030, which include off-grid electricity serving 25 percent of the rural population. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the East African Community (EAC) recently agreed to create similar regional renewable energy programs.