Africa Could Double Renewable Energy Capacity in 5 Years

While developments of renewable energy in areas like Europe, America and particularly China have topped the news in recent times, Africa is also forging forward, something that is helping to transform local communities.

Solar and wind, as well as water, are bringing sustainable energy solutions to remote areas and will undoubtedly have a significant impact on the economy and standard of living for people over the next decade or so in many countries.

According to Reuters recently:

“Strong demand is set to give a huge boost to renewable energy growth in Sub-Sahara Africa over the next five years, driving cumulative capacity up more than 70 percent…From Ethiopia to South Africa, millions of people are getting access to electricity for the first time as the continent turns to solar, wind and hydropower projects to boost generation capacity.”

While there has been some resistance from large corporations and companies dependent on fossil fuels for their revenue, technologies such as roof top solar are beginning to expand on the continent. Areas like Ethiopia have huge resources for taking advantage of hydroelectric power and South Africa is putting huge investments into installing wind power.

When you consider that over two thirds of people in Sub-Saharan Africa still don’t have access to a reliable energy source, there’s obviously some way to go but the future looks highly promising.

According to the International Renewable Energy Agency, countries could deliver at least a quarter of their energy from clean sources over the next few years if the right investments are made. One of the big problems, of course, is simply the huge size of the continent and the logistical issues of creating a comprehensive energy grid. The installation of local wind farms and community solar panels can make a big difference – especially when you consider that energy for lighting from fossil fuels can be as much as $10 per kWh.

Many areas in sub-Saharan Africa have more than 300 days of sunshine a year which makes them ideal for solar installations. Wind is the primary resource in areas like West Africa while the East has immense potential for geothermal technology. The move towards off-grid systems makes more sense here than in many other countries where the infrastructure is already in place. And with the development of battery technology, remote locations may all soon be able to access electricity 24/7.

The potential and the challenge to change the economic landscape in Africa cannot be underestimated. There’s not doubt that growth in technology goes hand in hand with having power – something we take for granted in developed nations.

In 2005, only 2% of people had access to the internet in Africa. By 2016 that had increased to 25% compared to nearly 80% in Europe. Being connected to a power source is not only helping provide people with the things they need to run a home and better health care, it’s also helping them access resources and education from around the globe. The use of renewable energy and a boost in capacity is one of the most transformational things that has happened on the continent in the last 100 years.

According to Planet Earth:

“Sub-Saharan Africa has access to a wealth of primary renewable energy supplies, with enough geothermal, hydro, wind and solar resources to provide terawatts of power. The continent has the potential to source an additional 10 terawatts of solar energy, 1,300 gigawatts of wind power, and 1gigawatts of geothermal potential.”

Despite confidence in the future, there are still big challenges for African countries to overcome. Undoubtedly the is that it is a continent with major fossil fuel resources and changing minds has not necessarily been easy, especially where large corporations and energy companies are concerned. The second is access to technology and, more importantly, training people up in renewable technology and creating the installers and innovators of the future. That requires putting in the infrastructure and make enough resources available that help raise the skills level of communities, including those in remote locations.

The construction of a huge 310 MW wind farm in Lake Turkana, Kenya, highlights what the future could like for a continent with so much to offer in the way of natural resources. The project was funded by Norwegian, Dutch and German investors and Kenyan politicians are hoping that infrastructure such as this will go hand in hand with faster economic development.

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