Africa Going Straight To Renewable Energy…Forget Coal, Forget That Whole Mess!

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While the rest of the developed world is addicted to fossil fuels,  Africa is bubbling with the promise of a renewable energy explosion. Access Power, an organization which owns and operates renewable energy projects in developing nations, is leading the charge.

Africa has enormous potential for renewable energy, with untapped resources for electricity generated from wind and solar predicted to surpass total projected demand in 2030. The new paper, published in the journal of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) is the first to map the potential for new wind and solar plants in 21 African countries.

Strategically selected sites with interconnectors allowing resources to be shared between countries suggest Africa’s growing electricity demand could be met with renewable sources at a similar cost to conventional fossil fuel generation.

At present, Africa has the lowest power per capita electricity consumption in the world, and access to power is a serious challenge. In 2014, just 37% of the population had electricity, according to the Sustainable Energy for All Forum. In fact, of the 1.06 billion people across the world still, without electricity, rural Africa account for 45% of the total, with an additional 10% spread across Africa’s cities.

Demand is expected to grow exponentially in the past few years, predicted to exceed 1,000 TWh by 2030—nearly triple their consumption in 2010. To put that in perspective, that’s equivalent to Russia and about three times the current consumption in the UK.

To meet energy goals without the high cost of fossil fuel generation, African countries have been turning to hydropower—a solution that has some serious barriers. The potential for wind and solar generated electricity still remains largely unexplored, and roughly half of African countries lack basic assessments.

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

Still, falling costs of wind and solar power have already started fueling growth in a handful of African countries. But renewable energy has largely been held back by the perception that it is significantly more expensive than fossil fuels. The new study aims to address some of these issues by exploring the potential for the expansion of low-cost renewable electricity to Africa by 2030.

The authors developed a tool to map the prime sites for solar in 21 different countries: Angola, Botswana, Burundi, Djibouti, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, Libya, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Collectively, these countries make up the East Africa Power Pool (EAPP) and the Southern Africa Power Pool (SAPP).

The study revealed that Tanzania, Swaziland, Djibouti, and Libya are all able to meet 30% of their demand with low-impact and cost-effective wind sites. Some countries could also meet 30% of their projected demand with domestically-produced solar PV. But other countries “would require investing in transmission extensions to lower-cost PV resources or importing from neighbors.

According to Professor Daniel Kammen, a co-author on the study, the potential for cost-competitive renewables challenges the perception that coal is the solution to poverty and lack of access to electricity in Africa. That barrier is already starting to break down, with 15 African participant countries in the Climate Vulnerable Forum pledging to move to 100% renewables “as rapidly as possible.”

African provides a unique opportunity because it is home to around 700 million people without any source of electricity, meaning that various governments can pick any energy source they like.

Source: Carbon Brief, IFL Science