Unlocking Africa’s Energy Future

Access to reliable energy future calls for the embrace of sources like geothermal, hydro, and wind turbines for electricity is fundamental for economic and social development. Beyond individual and household needs, electricity empowers communities to adopt modern technologies, enhancing safety and affordability.

Central to almost all United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), electricity access is crucial for achieving sustainable prosperity through global partnerships and action.

Despite its importance, energy systems across much of Africa are failing to meet the needs of its population. This is particularly true in sub-Saharan Africa, where at least 600 million people, or about 50 percent of the region’s population, lack access to electricity.

Globally, one in five people without energy access lived in sub-Saharan Africa as of 2021. Projections indicate that by 2030, electrification rates will not keep pace with population growth, leaving the figure unchanged.

Africa’s poorly maintained energy infrastructure leads to ongoing, disruptive outages. More than 75 percent of African businesses experience recurrent electrical outages, relying on costly backup generators if they can afford them. The high cost of fossil fuel generation makes electricity in Africa two to three times more expensive than the global average.

The electricity deficit is most significant in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Ethiopia, which together account for 42.6 percent of the global population lacking access to electricity.

Rural areas face the most significant energy scarcity, with villages rarely connected to national power grids. High grid connection charges exacerbate the issue, making electricity unaffordable for much of the population.

Amid these challenges lies a significant opportunity for innovation. African countries have immense potential to meet their energy needs through renewable energy sources. The continent has 60 percent of the world’s best solar sites by land area, yet its installed solar capacity is only 1 percent of global capacity. Hydropower, wind energy, and geothermal resources also present untapped opportunities.

energy future

Off-grid solutions are key to deploying these green energy resources, especially in rural areas. Standalone, off-grid generators can use local green energy sources, and modular power generators, known as distributed energy resource (DER) systems, can store and distribute electricity for entire communities. Solar-powered mini-grids, in particular, have become the least expensive, most reliable energy source for off-grid communities.

Economic factors such as high inflation, currency fluctuations, debt distress, lack of financing, supply chain bottlenecks, and soaring material prices impede universal energy access. Financing Africa’s shift to green energy will require billions of dollars annually and the continent’s energy future is bestowed in its numerous resources. While renewable energy investments in Africa totaled almost $60 billion between 2000 and 2020, this represents only 2 percent of global investments in renewables during this period.

Rural Africa particularly needs investment in green energy development. Scaling into rural communities is costly and logistically challenging, requiring narrow profit margins and high risk. This compounds the challenge of insufficient investment in green energy.

Africa’s energy markets present a fruitful opportunity for international investors due to the continent’s rapidly growing energy demands and ample green energy resources. Green hydrogen is expected to become a major power source and export for Africa’s energy future, offering significant returns for early investors. Expanding electric grids is another focus, with China leading in foreign investment in this sector in Africa.

Public-private investment in African green energy systems is gaining momentum. The US Agency for International Development’s Power Africa program and the Sustainable Energy for All initiative are driving faster action toward achieving SDG7 in Africa.

Early investments in Africa’s green energy transition will bolster economies against the eventual global shift away from hydrocarbon markets and create job opportunities, especially for the 12 million young people joining the workforce each year.

Existing innovations often fail to increase energy access due to a lack of community buy-in. Solutions introduced by external parties without community input do not engender trust or ensure sustainability. Communities need opportunities to learn the required skills and understand the benefits and risks of new technologies.

Community involvement in green energy solutions is critical for long-term implementation and scalability. Local communities are best positioned to support the production, distribution, and maintenance of decentralized green energy systems. Supporting small-business entrepreneurs in green energy can complement ongoing community-level initiatives, fostering professional development and capacity-building opportunities.

Africa’s energy future hinges on overcoming significant challenges related to infrastructure, costs, and capital access. However, the continent also holds immense potential for green energy solutions. By investing in renewable energy and fostering community involvement, Africa can achieve sustainable energy access, driving economic and social development for generations to come.

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