Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Lighting up a dark continent

The World Bank has said that the African continent has huge available resources for renewable energy, with the potential for electricity generated from wind and solar to surpass total projected demand.

A report by the World Bank Group and the International Energy Agency, released lately highlights how the speed of electrification in Africa is failing to keep pace with a rapidly rising population. The report says, “In 2014 the vast majority of those without access to electricity, lived in rural areas where the race against demographic growth is largely being lost.”

On the other hand, recent forecasts suggest that African countries must triple their current electricity generation by 2030, according to new research from Sustainable Energy for All Forum.

Though electricity generation is currently low in Africa, demand is expected to grow exponentially, the new Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS) study explains. For an area encompassing 50% of Africa’s population (approximately 600 million people), the collective demand is expected to exceed 1,000 TWh in future, nearly triple their consumption in 2010. For context, 1,000 TWh is around three times current UK consumption, and about the same as Russia’s or India’s.

To meet energy goals without overexposure to what is called the “insecurity and high costs” of fossil fuel generation, African countries have been increasingly looking towards hydropower. But dependence on hydropower has been hindered by high environmental costs, barriers to international cooperation and transboundary water rights issues, says the PNAS study.

Of the alternatives, the potential for wind and solar generated electricity to meet demand in Africa remains largely unexplored, the report continue. Roughly half of African countries lack basic assessments of potential wind and solar capacity and renewables’ contribution to the overall power mix remains around the 1% mark for the continent as a whole.

Oliver Knight, a senior energy specialist at the World Bank said “Lack of knowledge of the wind resource potential in Sub-Saharan Africa, prior to a few years ago, has hampered development. Solar was probably better understood, although not at any level of detail.”

He also makes the point that investments should not be considered in isolation, and that solar and wind resources needed to be planned alongside the development of hydropower and other resources. 

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