Africa in the Age of Renewable energy,how the continent can achieve the IEA’s 100% transition dream

Fossil fuels are responsible for the large scale global political, economic, health and environmental problems. In consideration of the fact that fossil fuels will soon run out and the increasing demand for energy, an energy crisis is  looming and this can not be ignored anymore.

A coal plant in china
A coal plant in china

In fact, in this fast paced world that we live in, where things keep going in and out of fashion, technology is upgraded every passing day, fabric designers are setting new trends every new season and the world is equally getting out of touch just as fast with the humans, change must be effected.

However, just like Rome was not built in one day, transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy is not going to happen overnight. It has its fair share of technical, economic and political issues.

The International Energy Agency (IEA), the UN and Google among other organizations, in a “Global transition analysis” concluded that it is possible for the world to transition 100% to renewable energy both technically and economically. However the challenges shouldn’t be overlooked.

Economically, large investments are required to set up renewable energy and distribution plants on large scale and yet many developing countries do not have such monies.

Politically, regulatory framework has to be set up and care must be taken by the leaders to ensure the framework makes economic sense.

Therefore to achieve 100% renewable energy, Ecofys, a leading energy consultancy, in its report stated that half the goal can be met by increasing the energy efficiency to reduce energy demands and the other half by producing electricity using renewable energy.

For this to be possible, Ecofys advises that up to 3% of the global GDP should be diverted to investment in renewable energy, materials and energy efficiency and necessary infrastructure. Eventually, the cost will gradually reduce and by 2050, these changes if made, will save about 4trillion Euros ($5.7trillion) per year on reduced fuel costs and energy efficiency. This can be achieved through taxing carbon emissions, using a strict energy efficiency criteria, substantially investing in the transport sector and increasing awareness on energy consumption.


The African situation           

China’s Three Gorges Dam in Yichang which has a total electric generating capacity of 22,500 megawatts.
China’s Three Gorges Dam in Yichang which has a total electric generating capacity of 22,500 megawatts.

According to the African Development Bank, Africa’s total power capacity is 147 GW which is the equivalent of what China installs every one to two years or the total capacity installed in Belgium. This means that for Africa to boost her growth, more energy production is needed and yet fossil fuel-based power generation, which is the largest source of electricity generation in Africa, is way too expensive.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that sub-Saharan Africa alone will require more than $30 billion in investment to achieve universal electricity by 2030. Rural sub-Saharan Africa will require even a lot more funds considering more than 85% of those living in rural areas lack access to reliable electricity.

In effect, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), has developed rural renewable energy development agendas. ECOWAS has established the Center for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (ECREEE), forming strategic development pacts with several international organizations that includes Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), targeting nearly 20% for the renewable makeup of energy by 2030, which include off-grid electricity serving 25% of the rural population. Borrowing a leaf, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the East African Community (EAC) recently agreed to create similar regional renewable energy programs.

Africa being the hub of natural resources, if it weren’t for the cost, Africa would be bragging over 100% renewable energy technology setup by now. The application of renewable energy technology has the potential to alleviate many of the problems that Africans face every day, especially if done so in a sustainable manner that prioritizes human rights.

Such access to abundant, reliable, and cost-effective energy will reduce poverty and promote economic growth, communication technologies, education, industrialization, agricultural improvement and expansion of municipal water systems. Unfortunately, too many problems exist to make this a realistic option for the vast majority of people in Africa, especially those who live in rural locations.

Is the world willing to transition to 100% renewable energy?

A bio-gas plant in Kigali, Rwanda.
A bio-gas plant in Kigali, Rwanda.

So far, no 100% use of renewable energy has been implemented anywhere in the world however substantial progress is being made with not just developed countries coming on board but developing ones as well.

Countries like Iceland get 85% of their country’s electricity from earth’s heat. The country’s electricity supply is renewable from hydropower and geothermal power. Like Germany, Norway also comes in with approximately 98% renewable energy that it gets from wind, hydro and geothermal power.

Scotland is estimated to have the potential to become 100% renewable by 2020. Paraguay derives 90% of its electricity from hydropower and even exports 19% of Brazil’s and therein displacing a whole 67.5million tons of carbon dioxide a year.

The U.S is estimated to meet its 100% renewable energy demand by 2050. However for this goal to be achieved, the U.S should at least replace 80% of its energy to renewable resources by 2030. The US Department of Energy found that 4,087 sites could be developed to produce hydroelectricity without building new dams and this would prevent 22.7million metric tons of carbon being emitted into the air.

Today, a considerable number of Africans are also using solar, bio-mass, wind, and geothermal devices although it is on a small scale especially in the rural areas since electricity from large-scale power plants is unavailable to them due to its excessive cost of transporting.

However by investing in the long term energy solutions that alternative energy sources afford, most African nations would benefit significantly in the longer term by avoiding the pending economic, environmental and health problems developed countries are currently facing.


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