Africa’s Growing Momentum for Renewable Energy
Africa is currently looking more than ever towards renewable energy technology as several countries in the continent faces power crisis. Severe depletion of power have led many countries including Zambia, Mali, Cape Verde and Côte d’Ivoire to implement targets for renewable energy and strategise regulatory guidelines encouraging private and independent energy producers in the renewables sector. Africa’s abundant supply of natural energy resources also makes the continent the ideal place to harness renewable sources to meet power demands.
With majority of the continent being rural, renewable energy projects are more popular as they are cost-effective (there has been a steady fall in price of renewable energy generation worldwide) and deployment of renewable plants are faster than fossil fuel power plants, ‘they can be integrated into diesel-based micro-grids to save costs and improved air quality.’ (http://web.unep.org) Consequently, more and more African countries are moving towards rural electrification and a sustainable economy reducing the dependence on fossil fuels. Most of the African countries currently have renewable energy policies. “Renewable energy is the only solution for us as a country. It will take us some time but we just have to develop this sector. This is the route that the government wants to take,” Charles Zulu, Deputy minister of Energy and Water Development, Zambia.
Growth in the renewables sector have also had a positive effect on employment side resulting in poverty alleviation. About 62,000 jobs have been created from renewable energy development with thousands more expected as the continent continues to tap into more than 1,100 gigawatts (GW) of solar power capacity, 350 GW of hydropower capacity, and over 100 GW of wind power capacity. “There is a tremendous, long-recognized potential for growth in renewable sources to meet growing energy demand in Africa, where access to non-renewable energy is a challenge. This translates to a huge potential employment market, on a continent whose population is both very youthful and very entrepreneurial,” Dr. Bernadette Lalai, Member of the Pan-African Parliament, Sierra Leone. (http://web.unep.org) Already more than 20% of Africa’s on-grid power generation comes from renewable sources.
Hydropower till now is the leading renewable energy sector in Africa being in approximately 36 out of 54 countries. The continent boasts of seven major rivers and the technology provides reliable power with low operating and maintenance costs. It is estimated that only 7% of Africa’s hydropower potential has been harnessed.
The hydropower potential of the Democratic Republic of Congo alone is reported to be sufficient to provide three times as much power as Africa presently consumes. ‘One of the most ambitious projects is the Grand Inga project in the Democratic republic of Congo, which at 39,500 megawatts could power all of Africa by itself.’ (http://www.nortonrosefulbright.com/) The leading copper producer, Zambia, is also heavily reliant on hydropower and have recently joined with DR Congo on the Luapula hydro plant which should increase 700 MW of clean power. The project comes at a cost of about US $ 6 billion and is expected to completed and commissioned by 2024.
There has also been a shift in emphasis towards solar power in Africa. More and more solar farms are being built across Africa. One of the biggest is in South Africa, near Kimberley generating clean energy for more than 80,000 homes. In Ghana, a 155 megawatt solar farm is being built and there are similar plans in Morocco too. Zambia, for instance, aims to boost off-grid and decentralised renewable energy systems to reduce power shortages. The government has joined the World Bank Group’s Scaling Solar Program and is building two large solar plants (600 megawatts [MW] capacity in total).
Mali is also getting into the solar picture where the Malian government has formulated a solar-energy plan and are encouraging independent and private developers to invest. Norwegian firm, Scatec Solar is building the first large-scale solar project in West Africa in Mali and the project is being funded by the World Bank.