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Development of renewable energy in Africa: continent’s future as the world hub of green economy


Electricity is an important condition for the reduction of poverty and economic growth. The development of agriculture, education and technology demand sufficient and continuous electricity supply.

The situation in Africa is fundamentally different. The shortage of energy significantly impedes the continent’s development. Approximately 70% of Africans don’t have reliable access to electricity. According to the African Development Bank, a big part of manufacturers in Africa operates 56 days a year on average, due to power outages. Even more, a significant part of households is bankrupt because of the inability to adjust the production process.

The current energy sector in Africa is based on the development of fossil fuels, which is the most expensive form of energy production. Moreover, African rural areas often have no access to electricity, due to the weak infrastructure of its transportation and distribution.

In light of the abovementioned, the development of renewable energy in Africa may be the perfect decision.

Green energy is one of the Third Industrial Revolution’s elements. So in this context Africa can become a global renewable energy hub due to its natural conditions. The sunniest continent has a large coastline which suits for the development of hydroelectric, wind and solar power.

Development of green energy: perspectives for African countries

Africa has significant potential in the field of renewable energy. By 2040, renewable energy sources are expected to provide over 40% of the entire continent’s electricity.

The development of alternative energy sources will improve the situation with access to electricity in remote rural areas by installing small solar or wind power plants. They will overlap the gap caused by excessive costs of transporting electricity from large power plants.

Also, alternative energy sources can play a significant role in reducing the cost of electricity for Africa. Especially in comparison with the cost of small and domestic gaseous or diesel capacities, which Africans often use.

Green power will also reduce carbon emissions and environmental pollution caused by kerosene lamps. Around 600,000 people in Africa annually die because of environmental pollution.

According to the World Bank, the economy of Africa can accelerate its growth rate by an average of 2% annually with a continuous supply of energy. This will lead to an increase in investments and the growth of the socio-economic development of African rural regions.

However, the development of renewable energy in Africa will face up with many challenges. The significant initial investment is the first among them. Many African countries have an unfavorable investment climate, which complicates attracting investments.

The modern energy sector in Africa seriously rides on fossil fuels. This condition could explain the reluctance of governments to develop renewable energy sources. The intensification of endeavors to develop renewable energy can lead to uncertainty in resource countries.

All this is intensified by the fact of solar and wind energy unreliability as they depend on unpredictable weather conditions.

Current African projects in green energy sector

Development of renewable energy in Africa: continent’s future as the world hub of green economy

Nevertheless, African countries have already begun developing renewable energy sector. South Africa, Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and Zambia are the most active countries.

Hydro energy is the most developed in the Eastern and Southern parts of the African continent.  Ethiopia has been actively evolving alternative energy sources for the last decade. Its largest hydropower projects are Beles II (460 MWh), Gilgel Gibe II (420 MWh), Gilgel Gibe III (1.87 GWh) and the Renaissance dam (6 GWh, is being built).

With the United Nations assistance, West Africa also realizes its hydro potential, especially Guinea (dam on the River Niger) and DRC (dam Grand Inga with a potential of 44 GW).

Solar and wind powers can also become fully competitive industries in Africa. The tentative results show that Tanzania, Swaziland, Djibouti are able to cover 30% of their demand for electricity through wind power. 

There are two flagships-countries in the East African region in development of wind power: Ethiopia (today its wind power plants produce 320 MWh of energy) and Kenya (the most ambitious project is Turkana, with a projected power of over 300 MWh).

More than 60% of Kenya’s energy comes from hydro and geothermal energy. Last year Kenya built the largest geothermal plant in Africa. The country has plans on building a large-sized solar system and one more geothermal plant.

In rural areas of Rwanda, mini-solar projects provide access to energy for local schools and farmers. But not only Rwanda has the potential in solar energy. Such countries as Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Ethiopia, Sudan and Uganda can meet 30% of their demand for electricity by solar energy in 2030.

In South Africa, solar energy is the most advanced (according to preliminary forecasts, this sector will reach 8400 MWh by 2030). The country realized 19 projects in this field.

There are also several interesting initiatives and start-ups in the field of green energy in Africa.

  1. Shakti Energy in South Africa provides a solution for lighting the communities living in informal settlements and rural areas.
  2. Off Grid Electric and Jazz Energy in Tanzania provide solar energy for thousands of households.
  3. Freedom Won in South Africa, an analog of American Tesla, meant to provide solutions for environmentally friendly energy and electric vehicles.
  4. Quaint Global Energy Solutions offers solar energy solutions for rural areas in Nigeria.

Some international actors, in particular, Germany, the Netherlands, China, Canada, seek the development of renewable energy in Africa. Cameroon, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, and Mozambique are among the most attractive investment destinations in this area.

However, for the further development of green energy in Africa, the following conditions are needed: transparent procedures, properly adapted legislation, attractive investment climate, redistribution of public funding with emphasis on the development of new technologies and renewable energy sources.

An important point is the consolidation of regional efforts, which will reduce the direct financial burden on the governments of the countries and improve regional integration. This also can cause the “spillover effect”, when the successful implementation of the project in one sphere accelerates cooperation in other sectors.



Marta Oliynyk-Domochko

Marta Oliynyk-Domochko is Ph.D. in Political Science, researcher, think-tanker, Executive Director of Global Ukraine Foundation.

As an analyst, she focuses on foreign policy, African regional cooperation and security issues, soft policy, public diplomacy and other topics.

Contact via e-mail [email protected]