24 May What does the future of energy in Africa look like?
Today, one in three Africans does not have access to electricity, often resorting to using kerosene, wood, charcoal or spending hours in darkness. On the other hand, power providers in the region are cash-strapped, suffer from aging infrastructure and are unable to serve their customers in a reliable manner.
If nothing is done to change this, there will be more Africans without power by 2030 than there are now.
But that does not have to be the case. Renewable energy will make up almost half of sub-Saharan Africa’s power generation growth by 2040, according to a report by the International Energy Agency. The report, which is the IEA’s first major analysis of sub-Saharan Africa, looked at the region’s potential to supply energy to the approximately 620 million people who still lack access to electricity. Sub-Saharan Africa’s economy has been growing rapidly since 2000, the report notes, but the fact that two-thirds of the region’s population lacks access to electricity is stymieing that growth.
The report predicts that, over the next 26 years, sub-Saharan Africa will start to unlock its “vast renewable energy resources’ ‘ and that solar energy will lead the growth in renewables in the region. According to the report, just 10 percent of sub-Saharan hydropower potential is currently being exploited. In addition, much of Africa has “excellent solar” potential, and coastal regions hold potential for wind energy.
Renewable energy has the potential to power Africa’s transformation given the right policies
However, despite nearly two decades of steady economic growth in Africa, power shortages, restricted access to electricity and dependence on biomass for fuel are undermining efforts to reduce poverty. Climate change poses a serious threat to Africa’s energy security due to the high dependence on traditional biomass. This is a key driver of deforestation as witnessed in many countries including Zamba, Malawi, Congo and Ethiopia, which further exacerbates climate change through CO2 emissions.
Hydropower is another major source of energy in a number of African countries particularly for the generation of electricity. The effects of climate change on hydroelectric energy generation have already been witnessed with the recent droughts across the region that affected generation capacity in many countries, resulting in blackouts and load shedding. For example Lake Kariba has continuously fallen short year on year due to changes in climate.
According to the 2015 African Progress Panel Report, the frequent power cuts result in losses estimated at 6 percent of turnover for large firms and as much as 16 percent for informal sector businesses. Although climate change presents challenges to African transformation, the resulting increased temperatures and irradiance offer opportunities to harness Africa’s abundant renewable energy resources. These resources consist of concentrated solar power, photovoltaics, wind energy, geothermal energy and bioenergy. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency, Africa’s total energy potential from CSP, PV and wind energy is about 1,590 petawatt hours.
Development of renewable energy systems for household, farm and industrial uses will reduce biomass utilization for energy, help improve productivity, reduce carbon emissions, and improve living standards. Although the prices of RE systems have been falling steadily, the initial capital cost is still high and is a major barrier to entry into the market. Innovative business models could be used to lower costs. A good example is Engie Energy Access in Zambia and M-KOPA Solar in Kenya, which bring affordable solar energy to off-grid communities using mobile phone technology.
African governments still have a lot to do when it comes to policy alignment and sheer will. The only challenge is external interests often come before national interests. The future of electricity supply and delivery on the continent of Africa represents one of the thorniest challenges facing professionals in the global energy, economics, finance, environmental, and philanthropic communities.
If power deficiency is not solved, extreme poverty for many Africans is virtually assured for the foreseeable future, as it is widely recognized that economic advancement cannot be achieved in the 21st Century without good electricity supply. Yet, if Africa were to electrify in the same manner pursued in developed economies around the world during the 20th Century, the planet’s global carbon budget would be vastly exceeded, greatly exacerbating the worldwide damages from climate change. Question is what is more important.