Sub-Saharan Africa’s hunger for renewable energy
6 March 2017

More and more developing countries are embracing energy growth through renewable sources and efficiency. This is true for the entire African continent, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, where the renewable energy sector is opening up.

The latest Climatescope report (compiled by Bloomberg New Energy Finance and published in December 2016) shows that the price of renewable energy is becoming increasingly competitive and that non-subsidised solar energy is set to become more profitable than coal and natural gas. The cost of installing solar panels is expected to fall by 60% and reach 4 cents per kilowatt-hour by 2040. Indeed, former emerging countries are as good as – or even better than – mature economies. Brazil, China and India have invested more ($154 billion) than the 35 members of the OECD put together ($153 billion). The report also shows that the renewable sector is growing in Sub-Saharan Africa, with 14 countries having set themselves targets and doubling investment – to above $5 billion – between 2014 and 2015.

Kenya stands out as one of the most dynamic countries: it increased its geo-thermal energy capacity to 740MW by the end of 2015 and is planning to launch a $150 billion project to bring solar energy to areas without access to the electricity network. The project is expected to receive support from the World Bank fund. Ethiopia is also particularly active in terms of wind power (150MW) and is stepping up its efforts in solar energy – with the construction of a 5.200MW plant that is the largest in the continent. Moreover, Addis Ababa has various projects in the pipeline, including geo-thermal and solar energy projects, and intends to open some to the private sector.

The core of the industry business is in South Africa, where the investment boom in renewables is more evident and players gather to exchange ideas at the various exhibitions held there. These include Africa New Energy  – the solar and wind exhibition in Cape Town on 7 and 8 March – and Power & Electricity World Africa in Johannesburg on 28 and 29 March.

Major investment by Italian companies in Africa is still limited – mainly to large groups such as Eni, Danieli, Enel Green Power, Salini Impregilo. The reference point for Italian players is RES4Africa (Renewable Energy Solutions for Africa), the leading platform for dialogue on energy chaired by the General Manager of Enel Green Power. It is a network of key energy stakeholders from around the world who promote clean tech solutions in Sub-Saharan Africa. According to Egp, the share of renewable energy in the generation mix could reach 50% by 2030, hydropower and wind power could reach 100 gigawatts of installed capacity, and solar energy 70 GW – a tenfold increase on 2013 levels. At the local level, the Sustainable Energy for All (SEforAll) Africa Hub (a partnership of African institutions hosted by the African Development Bank) was created to coordinate and facilitate the development of clean energy. The African Development Bank is significantly increasing its involvement in the energy sector and investments under the New Deal on Energy for Africa.

The market exists. Since 2000, the energy demand in Sub-Saharan Africa has recorded a 45% increase. Except for South Africa, the average consumption is approx. 162 kWh per capita annually, compared with a global average of 7.000 kWh. In other words, a Tanzanian takes eight years to consume the same amount of electricity that an American consumes in just a month. The problem is not the resources themselves but access to them (the continent is rich in resources). Energy security is far from being a globally uniform trend:  too many areas are still not guaranteed electric lighting. In Sub-Saharan Africa, 620 million people – one third of the population – live without electricity. In stark contrast, only 116 million people in Ethiopia, Nigeria and Sudan have no access to the electricity network. This gap clearly emerges from the latest World Bank report entitled “Rise” (Regulatory Indicators for Sustainable Energy). The report contains the first comprehensive assessment of the three key elements of energy policy: energy access, energy efficiency and renewable sources.

Given this gap, the International Energy Agency estimates that investment in energy supply in the coming years will be rise from approx. $110 billion annually to approx. $3.000 billion in 2040. Also thanks to the commitments undertaken at the Paris Cop21 climate change conference, the World Bank Africa estimates a capital inflow in the African regions of $16.1 billion in 2020.