Investment in African renewable energy reaches $ 3.6 bn in 2011

Jan 09, 2012 12:00 AM

by. John C.K. Daly of

First, the bad news.
Although Africa has vast fossil and renewable energy sources, only 20 % of its population has direct access to electricity and in some rural areas, four out of five people are completely without power. According to the UN, over 600 mm Africans currently do not have access to electric power.
A depressing 70 % of Sub-Saharan Africa's population is living without access to clean and safe energy for their basic needs such as cooking, lighting and heating, making energy poverty among the most urgent issues facing Africa.


Africa is not yet locked into the inefficient, oft-polluting infrastructure of many Western countries. Accordingly, Africa with modern efficient technologies could build a renewable energy infrastructure that could bypass the inefficient, fossil fuel-centered energy infrastructure systems of the developed world.

Worldwide, more than 1.4 bn people worldwide have no access to electricity, and 1 bn more only have intermittent access.
Over 2.5 bn people, almost half of humanity, rely on traditional biomass -- wood, coal, charcoal, or animal waste to cook their meals and heat their homes, exposing themselves and their families to smoke and fumes that damage their health and kill nearly 2 mm people a year. More than 95 % of these people are either in sub-Saharan Africa or developing Asia.

The good news?
According to the Managing Director of Nigeria's Bank of Industry (BOI), Evelyn Oputu, total investments in renewable energy in Africa rose from $ 750 mm in 2004 to $ 3.6 bn in 2011.
To put this in a global context, worldwide investment in renewable energy has risen from $ 33 bn in 2004 to $ 211 bn in 2011.

And the future?
According to a report issued in August 2011 by Frost and Sullivan entitled "Mega Trends in Africa: A bright vision for the growing continent," investment in renewable power in Africa is set to grow from the 2011 total of $ 3.6-bn in 2010 to $ 57-bn by 2020, a staggering 1,583 % increase in nine short years.
According to the document, "The key growth sectors will be wind power, solar power, geothermal power and foreign direct investment (FDI) into energy and power infrastructure."

The reason for the spectacular projections?
Africa's combination of a massive unmet demand, including remote communities, allied to an abundance of renewable power potential in the form of solar, wind and geothermal potential. To give but one example, only 7 % of Africa's hydropower capacity has been developed up to now.
Africa is not yet locked into the inefficient, oft-polluting infrastructure of many Western countries. Accordingly, Africa with modern efficient technologies could build a renewable energy infrastructure that could bypass the inefficient, fossil fuel-centred energy infrastructure systems of the developed world.

Modest starts in renewable energy have already begun across the continent.
Wind power projects in Africa are planned or under way in Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, Tunisia, and Tanzania -- including Kenya's 0.3 GW Lake Turkana project and 0.7 GW of capacity under construction in Morocco, while Cameroon, Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda all have existing biomass power capacity or plans for future development.

South Africa has its planned solar park in Upington, intended to contribute 5,000 MW to the national electrical grid, while North Africa's Desertec is the largest solar power project ever conceived, designed at a potential cost of $ 500 bn to provide a significant portion of the electricity needs of participating countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region and up to 15 % of Europe's electricity needs by 2050.

Africa's ambitions have the support of the United Nations, where in 2010 the General Assembly unanimously endorsed a resolution designating 2012 as "The International Year of Sustainable Energy for All."
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has set three inter-linked objectives to support the goal of achieving "Sustainable Energy for All" by 2030, which are ensuring universal access to modern energy services, doubling the rate of improvement in energy efficiency and doubling the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix.

The UN Sustainable Energy for All incorporates a number of initiatives focusing on Africa, including World Bank Group's Lighting Africa, the Paris-Nairobi Climate Initiative, the Africa-European Union Energy Partnership, and the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, as well as the EU's decision to make access to sustainable energy a development priority through its "Agenda for Change."
A number of countries, including South Africa, are also leading the way with national initiatives.

But these initiatives are relatively recent and need financial support to prosper. It was only in September 2010 that African and European leaders launched the Africa-EU Renewable Energy Cooperation Program (RECP) at the First High-Level Meeting of the Africa-EU Energy Partnership (AEEP) in Vienna.
AEEP's agenda is nothing if not ambitious, as its targets on renewable energy to be reached by 2020 include 10,000 MW of hydropower facilities, 5,000 MW of wind power capacity, 500 MW of solar energy capacity and tripling the capacity of other renewables, such as geothermal, and modern biomass.

The downside to this picture?
Three things:

  1. the need for massive amounts of investment capital, a problem attendant to massive amounts of cash,
  2. corruption,
  3. and the continent's changing political landscape, which is already impacting the Desertec North African solar initiative as the Arab Spring roils the south coast of the Mediterranean.

But both the need and potential are there -- all that are currently lacking to make the future predictions a reality are cash and political will.

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