A wind farm for electric power generation in Egypt
The question of clean energy continues to elicit debate across the globe. Africa has been at the forefront of transitioning to clean energy, with many countries across the continent formulating policies aimed at increasing clean energy capacity within their economies. Clean energy is derived from renewable and zero-emission sources as well energy saved through energy efficiency measures. Most renewable energy is derived from natural resources that are regenerative over short cycles and that cannot be exhausted easily. Some of the most appreciated renewable energy resources are biomass, geothermal power, hydropower, solar and wind.
The global advocacy on the use of clean energy is supported by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 7 (SDG 7), whose key objective is to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for the global population. To achieve the aspirations of the SDG 7 by 2030, Africa must invest in clean energy such as solar, wind and thermal power to improve energy productivity, lower the cost of industrial production, create jobs and improve the standard of living of its people. According to the United Nations 2019 Energy Progress Report, the share of renewables in total energy consumption stood at 17.5 percent in 2017 and that 840 million people lacked electricity. However, recent reports indicate that the access to electricity in least developed countries is showing acceleration, energy efficiencies have improved and renewable energy is gaining traction in the electricity sector.
Clean energy access
The concern for Africa has therefore not just been about access to energy, but access to clean energy. Most experts agree that Africa's growing population is estimated to reach 2.49 billion by 2050, which exacerbates the need for cheap energy. Africa needs to focus its energy on improving the access to clean and safe cooking fuels, and to ensure that there is growth in the uptake of renewable energy beyond the electricity sector for electrification to be seen on the continent. To guarantee citizens clean and safe energy, there is a need for Africa to expand its infrastructure and deploy cutting edge technology to provide clean and more efficient energy.
According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), an intergovernmental organization mandated to facilitate cooperation, advance knowledge and promoting of the adoption and sustainable use of renewable energy, and with the right policies, regulations, governance and access to financial markets, Sub-Saharan Africa could meet up to 67 percent of its energy needs by 2030. This is attributed to the fact that most African countries are increasingly embracing renewables as an enabler that will usher them to sustainable energy in the future. This is supported by the fact that most African countries have come up with policy frameworks to aid in the implementation of clean energy within their jurisdictions.
For instance, to ensure access to affordable, reliable and sustainable clean energy, countries like South Africa, Kenya, Morocco, Egypt and Ethiopia have expressed solid commitment toward accelerated use of modern renewable energy and are at the forefront of leading energy transition efforts on the continent. As a result, this has provided inspiration to smaller countries within the continental economy that are following in the same footsteps to adopt clean energy solutions.
Countries like Cape Verde, Djibouti and Rwanda have followed the cue by setting ambitious but achievable renewable energy targets. The continued efforts to adopt clean energy solutions on the continent have also received a major boost from the African Union through unequivocal endorsement by the Committee of African Heads of State and Government on Climate Change, targeting to achieve at least 10 GW of new and additional renewable energy generation capacity and mobilize the African clean energy potential to generate at least 300 GW by 2030.
Economics of clean energy
The economics and the business case for use of clean energy cannot be overemphasized.
A report by McKinsey & Company on renewable energy in Africa indicates that the continent's technical potential for generation capacity is estimated at 10,000 GW of solar, 109 GW of wind, 350 GW of hydropower and 15 GW of geothermal energy. The IRENA in its report dubbed Africa 2030: Roadmap for a Renewable Energy Future estimates that the electricity demand will increase more than three-fold by 2030 and that the continent will witness an increase in clean energy projects.
By 2030, total installed capacity could be 610 GW, with 330 GW renewables – more than an eight-fold increase, with hydro contributing 100 GW, wind 100 GW, solar photovoltaics and CSP 93 GW, biomass 32 GW and geothermal 4 GW. The report goes further to indicate that renewable energy deals in Africa are among the most competitive in the world. The McKinsey & Company report also projects how the cost of solar installation, even after including the higher transaction cost of project delivery in Africa, will drop from current $1,630/KW to $870/KW in 2040. This translates to a 20-percent decline in the levelized cost of electricity (an estimate of the cost required to build and operate a generator over a specified cost recovery period). The effect will be felt in a decline of carbon emissions of up to 27 percent and reduced fuel cost for relying on solar and wind in place of coal and gas, leading to a 32-percent reduction in carbon emissions, which is a mitigation measure to global warming.
China's experience valuable
To harness its clean energy potential, Africa must learn lessons from China on affordable generation of renewable energy. As a world leader in the production of electricity through renewable energy sources, China offers African countries valuable lessons on infrastructure development, technical skills and renewable technology for harnessing clean energy.
The existing Sino-African relations under the auspices of the Belt and Road Initiative already provides a stable foundation for the development of infrastructure that supports increased access to clean energy in Africa. There is also great opportunity in cooperation in the production of solar panels. As the largest producer of solar panels in the world, China dominates the global photovoltaics sector in manufacturing affordable solar panels. Africa could leverage China's expertise in renewable energy to utilize the emerging technologies to advance a variety of initiatives designed to provide reliable, resilient and affordable clean energy.
In addition, Africa needs to cooperate more with China to promote the development, access and use of clean energy as an industrial development catalyst. The existing Sino-African relations will be useful in advancing cooperation in renewable energy that would be vital in assisting the continent to develop a sustainable, resilient and cost-effective renewable infrastructure. This can be realized through China-Africa collaborative efforts aimed at establishing energy efficiency programs, installing new capacity, deploying newer technologies, developing local human capacity, and formulating energy policies that will guarantee access to affordable, reliable and sustainable clean energy across the continent, in line with the United Nations SDG 7 on affordable clean energy. Indeed, access to clean, modern, sustainable energy is critical for improving the health and livelihoods of billions of people in Africa.
The author is an economist, consultant and a regional commentator on trade and investment based in Nairobi, Kenya
(Print Edition Title: A Green Future)
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