Building capacity to help Africa trade better

The status of renewable energy in Africa


The status of renewable energy in Africa

Willemien Viljoen, tralac Researcher, discusses the main findings of the Renewables 2013 Global Status Report in the context of recent developments in Africa

Recently the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21) released the Renewables 2013 Global Status Report (the complete report is available here). The report provides an overview of the renewable energy market, industry, investment and policy development worldwide, including developments throughout the African continent.

Renewable energy can play a vital role in the provision of modern energy services to those still depending on traditional energy sources, especially those located in remote and rural areas in Africa were electrification is limited, while providing countries with the opportunity to accelerate the transition to modern energy services in urban areas. Currently more than 99% of people without access to electricity live in developing countries of which four out of five people are located in south Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Sub-Saharan Africa has the lowest rate of electrification in the world with approximately 70% of the population without access to electricity, compared with the 57% of the total African population without access to electricity.

Although the utilisation of renewable energy sources in many African countries had a slow start, Africa is increasingly being recognised for the potential of its renewable energy sources to provide electricity, heat and transport fuels. Areas in southern and North Africa are now known for their solar resources, while many African countries show the highest potential for wind and geothermal energy in the developing world. Although renewable energy markets in African are globally the least developed, many African countries are focusing on moving to sustainable macro-economic development through the development and utilisation of large-scale renewable energy systems and infrastructure. The most important findings of the report regarding renewables in Africa can be summarised as the following:

  • Access to electricity varies considerably among the African countries. In Malawi only 1% of the rural population has access to electricity, while 18% of the total population in Kenya, 34% in Namibia, 55% in Botswana, 75% in South Africa and 99% in Egypt and Libya have access to electricity.

  • Approximately 68% of the African population still relies on traditional biomass (collected wood, forest products and agricultural residues) for cooking. The countries with the highest rate of the population still dependent on these sources of fuel for cooking include Ethiopia (96%), Tanzania (94%) and the DRC (93%).

  • African countries show significant potential for the development of sustainable bioenergy practices and technologies.

  • The generation of wind power is led by countries in North Africa; while countries in East Africa, especially Kenya are more focused on the development and utilisation of geothermal power. The region’s first grid-connected wind and solar power project of 5 Megawatt (MW) and larger will be constructed in South Africa this year.

  • The capacity for large- and small-scale hydropower generation increased across the African continent.

  • Sub-Saharan Africa uses more solar power for heating domestic water supply per capita than in many other regions, including Asia (except China), the United States and Canada.

  • Approximately 20 African countries have formal renewable energy policies with ambitious renewable energy targets in place. Regional groupings, including the East African Community (EAC), Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) have established regional centres for renewable energy or developed or are in the process of developing regional strategies for renewable energy utilisation among member states.

  • A number of African countries use a combination of policy measures to support the development and implementation of renewable energy. Those countries using policy measures mainly use regulatory policies and targets (mainly renewable energy targets) and certain fiscal incentives (mainly capital subsidies, grants and rebates and a reduction in taxes).

  • Although several countries experienced a significant decrease in renewable energy investment during 2012 (compared to investment in 2011), African countries were an exception to this trend, showing a significant increase in foreign and domestic investment in renewable energy projects. South Africa’s investment in renewable energy increased from a few hundred million US dollars to approximately US$ 5.7 billion; while capital outlays for renewable energy projects in Morocco increased from US$ 297 million in 2011 to US$ 1.8 billion in 2012.

  • China is a major investor in renewable energy projects across the continent, including hydropower projects in Ethiopia, Nigeria, Sudan and Zambia and geothermal development in Kenya.

  • Sugarcane producing countries like Mauritius, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe have grid-connected bagasse* combined heat and power plants.

  • Although biodiesel production in Africa is limited, the production of ethanol increased from 270 million litres in 2011 to approximately 300 million litres in 2012.

  • Kenya is the largest producer of geothermal power in Africa with a total installed capacity of more than 200 MW.

  • A Geothermal Risk Mitigation Facility for Eastern Africa has been established to support surface studies and exploration drilling for sources of geothermal power in Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.

  • Several African countries utilise solar thermal technology for heating and cooling purposes, including Egypt, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Tunisia and South Africa. South Africa is the most mature market for solar thermal power although there has been a significant decrease in domestic production of solar thermal technology due to competition from China.

  • Egypt’s Solar Plan, with the target of providing 2800 MW of concentrated solar power (CSP) and 700 MW of solar photovoltaic (PV) power to the electricity grid by 2027 was approved in July 2012. Djibouti has committed to a power capacity of 100% renewables by 2030, while Lesotho aims to generate 260 MW of grid-connected power from renewable sources by 2030.

In terms of renewable energy promotion and energy efficiency ECOWAS is one of the most active regions in Africa, having developed rural energy advancement programmes in collaboration with the Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (ECREEE). ECOWAS has also set the ambitious rural population electrification target of providing 25% of the rural population throughout the ECOWAS member states with off-grid electricity systems by 2020. The developments in ECOWAS have led to other countries and regional groupings in Africa looking at emulating the ECOWAS programme. In 2012 the Energy Ministers of the SADC and EAC member states formally agreed to establish similar regional renewable energy and energy efficiency promotion programmes. The SADC Renewable Energy Strategy and Action Plan (RESAP) is currently still an on-going study in cooperation with the Finnish Government. The key aspects of RESAP are energy security; access to energy; the utilisation of biofuels for transport; the development and implementation of appropriate renewable energy policies, laws and institutions and minimising the impact of climate change on economic growth. Currently Mauritius is the only SADC member state with a renewable energy action plan, while Namibia, South Africa and Zambia are the only countries with renewable energy policies.

In the EAC the main source of primary energy is traditional biomass which is mainly used for cooking. Kenya is the only member country that uses geothermal power which provides approximately 7.5% of the total energy production in the EAC. In order to promote the use of renewable energy sources the EAC has developed the Regional Strategy for Scaling up Access to Modern Energy Services and Biofuels in East Africa. This strategy is also one of the pillars of the EAC strategy to meet their Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). One of the targets of the strategy is to reduce the use of traditional biomass by 50% and to increase the sustainability of biomass-derived fuel production. In collaboration with the ECREEE the member states of the EAC have also agreed to establish the East African Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (EACREEE) in 2014.

* Bagasse is the residue left after the juice of sugarcane has been extracted which is used as fuel for heat and power generation.



REN21 (www.ren21.net), SADC (www.sadc.int), EAC (www.eac.int), ECREEE (www.ecreee.org)


Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Tel +27 21 880 2010