Home Green Energy The hurdles that stand in way of Africa’s huge potential for renewables

The hurdles that stand in way of Africa’s huge potential for renewables

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The report found that per capita investment in renewables remains low in sub-Saharan Africa, reaching $125 per person by 2030, which is eight times less than in developed countries where investment is close to $1,000 per person.
The report found that per capita investment in renewables remains low in sub-Saharan Africa, reaching $125 per person by 2030, which is eight times less than in developed countries where investment is close to $1,000 per person.

A speedy transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy was top of the agenda at the recently-concluded Africa Climate Summit, which was hosted by Nairobi last month.

With the increasing demand for energy across Africa, delegates left the summit looking forward to the continent’s enhancement of climate action ambitions that require a rapid transition from fossil fuels to cleaner energy.

The summit ended with the release of the African Leaders Nairobi Declaration on Climate Change and Call to Action, which called for international support to boost Africa’s renewable energy capacity from about 27.4 GW in 2023 to 300GW by 2030.

Proponents of rapid green energy transition argue that renewable solutions can not only play a vital role in reducing energy poverty that’s currently bedeviling the majority of Africans, but also have immense potential to create economic opportunities, such as job creation.

However, it’s worth noting that while renewable energies have proven economically viable in other parts of the world, the cost dynamics differ in Africa, experts say.  

In addition, the disparity in real and perceived risk can impact the financial feasibility of renewable energy projects on the continent, according to Patricie Uwase, Rwanda’s minister of state for infrastructure.

“The elevated risks associated with investing in many African countries lead investors to seek higher returns to justify their involvement,” she told The EastAfrican in an exclusive interview. “Foreign currency fluctuations and inflation also undermine the stability required for successful implementation.”

Careful consideration, strategic planning

While African countries are undergoing a significant transition towards adopting renewable energy sources, experts say there are a range of challenges that necessitate careful consideration and strategic planning.

There is need for strong and steady promotion of renewable energy in the targeted countries by raising awareness of its benefits and opportunities
There is need for strong and steady promotion of renewable energy in the targeted countries by raising awareness of its benefits and opportunities

One of the biggest challenges to the deployment of renewables in Africa, according to Rwanda’s Uwase, is the unpredictability of government policies and economic conditions, which makes it challenging for African countries to attract the essential investments needed for establishing sustainable energy systems.

Ms Uwase says that inadequate infrastructure and grids also present a formidable obstacle as many nations across the continent lack the necessary grid infrastructure to accommodate conventional green energy sources.

“The variability of solar and wind power across Africa’s energy landscape adds strain to electrical grids. The integration of these fluctuating energy sources demands resilient and smart grids that can effectively manage the dynamic shifts in supply and demand, which do not always align seamlessly,” she says.

Away from logistics, some climate activists have been very loud in accusing African leaders of engaging in rhetoric and “false solutions” such as carbon markets that delay meaningful climate action for a just transition to green energy.

The summit took place just days after Kenyan President William Ruto signed into law the Climate Change (Amendment) Bill 2023, which creates a legal avenue for Kenya to join the global carbon markets.

“Our leaders need to know that people across Africa are waking up to what needs to be done. We are calling for less talk and more action. We need to break away from the failed approaches and distracting false solutions,” said Essok lnam Pedessi, a climate activist from Togo’s Renewable Energy Coalition who attended the summit.  

At the end of the summit, Mr Ruto described it as “action-focused” and “a springboard for climate action take-off” before announcing that various stakeholders, including governments, the private sector, multilateral banks, and philanthropists pledged up to $23 billion for green growth, mitigation, and adaptation efforts on the continent.

Immense potential

Despite all the hurdles, experts think that African countries possess immense potential for renewable energy generation. By addressing the aforementioned challenges through comprehensive strategies, Africa can tap into its renewable energy potential and pave the way for a more sustainable and resilient energy future.

“This transition offers a unique opportunity for many African nations to bypass the traditional trajectory of fuel dependency and dated infrastructure. Instead, they can leapfrog directly into the establishment of sustainable energy systems,” Ms Uwase says.

Today, Rwanda’s cumulative connectivity rate is 61.0 per cent of households, with hydropower standing out at 43.9 per cent of the nation’s energy generation mix – complemented by 4.2 per cent generated from solar. Rwanda’s goal, Ms Uwase said, is to source 60 per cent of the energy generation mix from renewables by 2030.

But to achieve this, the government will have to offer clear guidelines, regulatory stability, and streamlined project approvals to attract investor confidence.

“This commitment to effective regulation fosters an atmosphere conducive to renewable energy growth and encourages investment,” Ms Uwase said.

Role of private sector, civil society

Private sector players are seen as important partners who can significantly contribute to propelling the advancement of renewable energy initiatives across Africa by offering essential financial backing required for the conception and execution of green energy initiatives.

And then there are civil society organisations, which can contribute to renewable energy projects by offering funding, either through donations or through advocating for augmented public funding.

“Additionally,” Ms Uwase says, “these organisations can be powerful advocates for policies and regulations that bolster renewable energy development. By championing initiatives like tax incentives, civil society bodies can sway governmental policies in favour of the renewable energy sector.”

According to Jeanne d’Arc Mujawamariya – Rwanda’s minister for environment – to encourage private sector and civil society organisations, it is necessary to create an enabling environment that incentivizes investments, fosters collaboration, and facilitates the implementation of renewable energy projects.

“This involves putting in place relevant policy and regulatory frameworks, financial support, capacity building and skills development, innovation and technology transfer, infrastructure and market access, advocacy and awareness, and building effective partnerships and networks,” she said.  

Ms Mujawamariya thinks that innovation is yet another sphere where the private sector can wield its influence. Through the creation and adoption of pioneering technologies and business models, private companies can propel the trajectory of renewable energy development towards unprecedented growth, she said.

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