When a major part of the world overuses electricity, around 600 million Africans lack access to the bare minimum of it. However, is it possible to extend the access without relying on fossil fuels? As per an analysis, researchers found that Africa has a good potential to use renewable energy resources. It shows that with proper methods 76% of Africa’s energy could be renewable by 2040.

76% of Africa’s Energy Could Be Renewable by 2040: Clean Energy Potential of Africa

To find the answers to this, researchers from Germany and Rwanda aimed to assess the full potential of Africa’s renewable energy. They built the Renewable Power Plant Database Africa, which is a database of open access available on wind, solar, and hydro. This information is prepared based on data analyzed by scientists.

According to the analysis, it is possible by 2040 that 76% of Africa’s electricity needs could be met by renewables. This could include hydropower being the dominant source with 82% contribution. Moreover, Zimbabwe and Nigeria have the potential to completely set themselves free from fossil fuel reliance.

It is possible by using the existing hydro, wind, and solar capacity. Also, timely construction of all proposed plants. The ratio of renewables to fulfill 76% of the electricity required, which accounts for 1,225 TWh. This needs to be projected for 2040. If all existing hydropower, solar, and wind power plants start operating at full capacity and all proposed plants are implemented, the results will be as follows:

Hydropower – 82%

76% of Africa's energy could be renewable by 2040
Pic Credits: Pubs.org

Solar – 11%

76% of Africa's energy could be solar by 2040
Pic Credits: Pubs.org

Wind – 7%

76% of Africa's energy could be wind by 2040
Pic Credits: Pubs.org

Preferring Other Sources Over Hydropower

Although hydropower has been the main resource to date, with the reduced cost of PV panels and wind turbines, it is possible they can lead to sustainable energy options.

Fact Check – The price reduction in solar panels since 2009 is around 90% and wind turbines have been 55% to 60% since 2010.

Researchers think that combining hydropower with solar and wind would offer a more sustainable alternative to hydropower alone. According to a recent analysis, hydropower after 2030 would barely be profitable.

Thus, if hydropower is not a favorable option in the near future under climate change scenarios, taking up wind and solar is a better approach. Floating solar panels in existing reservoirs are a promising example of this hybrid technology.

Data Analysis

For the first comprehensive overview of African renewable energy plants researchers compiled the publicly available records of 1074 hydro, 276 wind, and 1128 solar power plants in one database. These included both existing and planned power plants. It includes the location of each proposed plant in all African countries. This data was then brought together and updated.

This comprehensive data includes their geographical coordinates, construction data, and capacity (megawatts). The database shows that some countries have enough projects in the pipeline to transition away from fossil fuels.

Highlights: 76% of Africa’s Energy Could be Renewable by 2040 Analysis

  • Hydropower is the main renewable electricity source in Angola, Cameroon, Djibouti, Eswatini, Gambia, Lesotho, Tanzania, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
  • Countries lagging behind in renewable energy development: Algeria, Cape Verde, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, South Africa, and Tunisia. They highly depend on fossil fuels.
  • If hydropower plants where feasibility studies were carried out and were built, their capacity would be more than double to 132GW.             
  • The Aswan High Dam with an installed capacity of 2.1GW generates most of Egypt’s energy. Thus, 132GW would be enough to power several countries in Africa, according to the analysis by RePP Africa.
  • Hybrid solutions are more likely to provide reliable electricity options to the growing population regions amidst the conditions of climate change.

Possible Solutions

To meet the renewable energy demand across Africa, they need to follow these methods:

  • There should be an international electricity sharing between African countries.
  • African leaders should shift their focus from economic-driven development to other interests involving public development.
  • The government should include different interests from the local and general population, government and non-government organizations.
  • To avoid land-intensive expansion of renewable power plants, where possible, to avoid conflict with farmers, industries, and national parks.
  • Governments must share experiences across borders to avoid mistakes, like damming the Nile River for hydropower.
  • Accurate management of data is important, so it is openly accessible across the world. High-quality data is the key and should be shared with countries to analyze different routes of development.
  • Countries need to get into transitional electricity-sharing arrangements.
  • Open access and location-specific data should be provided for developing an integrated sustainable renewable energy mix.

Past mistakes in building renewable power plants:

  • The Aswan High Dam – This dam disturbs the transport of sediments down the Nile delta. It also threatens highly biodiverse wetlands, causes shoreline erosion, and puts humans at risk.
  • The Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam – Though currently under construction, it is a recent prominent example of such mistakes. It also shows why there is an urgent need for cooperation and river management across borders.
The Aswan High Dam - Africa
The High Dam in Aswan for hydroelectric power generation, Nubia, Egypt.

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Factors Determining the Transition

Key factors determining the increasing momentum of renewable energy adoption in Africa are as follows:

1. Capacity building – It includes educating local communities, institutions, and businesses to develop knowledge and expertise to participate and benefit from the renewable energy economy. Through education, training, and skills it is possible to form a local capacity. This will ensure the long-term sustainability of the renewable energy transition in Africa.

2. Climate Instructions – Climate change is largely affecting Africa and their transitioning efforts align with global attempts to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.

3. Cost competitiveness – There has been a decline in renewable technologies costs, particularly solar and wind. This made them increasingly competitive with fossil fuels.

4. Energy access – To address energy poverty it is important to enable decentralized and off-grid solutions, particularly in remote rural areas. Renewable energy provides a viable solution for such situations.

5. Energy security – Renewable energy enhances resilience and energy security by reducing dependence on imported fossil fuels. To achieve 76% renewable energy by 2040, Africa needs a multi-faceted approach involving capacity building, innovation, energy investments, and policymaking.

6. Grid modernization – It is important to enhance grid infrastructure and modernize energy systems to incorporate renewable energy technologies. This enables the incorporation of both small and large-scale projects into the grid. It further brings investments in energy storage solutions, grid expansion, and smart grid technologies. This eases up the process to accommodate variable renewable energy sources.

7. Investment mobilization – For scaling up renewable energy deployment, it is important to mobilize private and public sector investment. Development banks, impact investors, and international financial institutions play a vital role in financing renewable energy projects. This becomes more helpful and beneficial during the initial stages where risks are higher.

8. Job opportunities – There are significant job opportunities in the renewable energy sector, particularly in the installation, manufacturing, and maintenance of renewable infrastructure.

9. Policy frameworks – The government should enact supportive policies to incentivize renewable energy deployment and investment. The government should offer tax incentives, feed-in tariffs, regulatory reforms, and renewable energy targets to streamline grid integration and project development.

Do you know Japan unveils 2024 feed-in tariff levels for residential, commercial PV: new rates and impacts?

10. Regional collaboration – This can facilitate the overall development of regional renewable energy markets in Africa, infrastructure sharing, and cross-border electricity trade. Regional initiatives, like the Africa Renewable Energy Initiative (AREI) provide such a platform for collective action and resource mobilization.

11. Technology innovation – Africa also needs innovative renewable energy technologies to reduce costs, improve efficiency, and overcome technical challenges. Research and development initiatives, collaboration with global partners, and technological transfers can accelerate the adoption rate in Africa.

Source: Sustainable pathways towards universal renewable electricity access in Africa

In conclusion, to achieve 76% of energy from renewable sources Africa needs to take important steps. It is determined that hybrid power plants are an effective solution rather than relying simply on hydropower. As RE (renewable energy) potential varies from country to country, transnational electricity sharing should be considered. It can serve as a means to distribute resources and share peak capacity generated within the nation.

Lastly, to ensure the responsible development of renewable energy, comprehensive investigation is crucial. It will thoroughly assess and monitor the ecological, political, and socioeconomic impacts of such initiatives.

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Olivia is committed to green energy and works to help ensure our planet's long-term habitability. She takes part in environmental conservation by recycling and avoiding single-use plastic.

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