Climate change: How Africa’s substantial renewable energies can be harnessed

Africa has a vital role to play in combating climate change. The potential for renewables is enormous, but could the continent take advantage of this opportunity?

By 2050, the world could entirely switch to renewable energy sources, according to the new UK think tank Carbon Tracker report. Africa, in particular, has what it takes to become the new superpower in renewable energy, with 39% of the world’s potential concentrated on the continent. But according to new research, fossil fuels are likely to continue to dominate there until 2030.

Will Africa become the future leader of renewable energy sources?

The development of a nationwide energy supply is one of the central problems in Africa. Due to climate change, the continent must rely on renewable energy sources. However, fossil fuels continue to dominate energy supply and infrastructure development, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. The massive potential of renewable energy sources remains virtually untapped. However, they are the ones that give Africa a chance for sustainable development and the ability to fight climate change.

For clean energy to become the primary energy source in Africa, various barriers must first be removed. Currently, there is neither a sufficient number of potential financiers nor a sufficient number of viable projects, there are market risks, and adequate and appropriate legislation is often lacking. Private investors are also forced to pay high-interest rates on loans.

Kenya is one example of how this can work. This East African country is a leader in using renewable energy technologies for the production of electricity, in particular geothermal energy. In the Great Rift Valley, the Kenyan government has built several geothermal power plants. Kenya recently commissioned the 158 megawatts (MW) Olkaria V geothermal power plant, the 310 MW Lake Turkana wind farm, and the 54 MW Garissa solar power plant.

This success was made possible in large part by political reforms that ensured private sector participation. The Kenyan government has created financial incentives by removing tariffs on imported goods for electricity generation. The Energy Law, passed in 2019, also sets out guidelines for managing the energy sector. The feed-in tariff is intended to ensure the supply of more green energy to the grid.

Under the African Union Agenda 2063, several initiatives have been launched to ensure Africa’s access to renewable energy. The first is the Africa Renewable Energy Initiative. It was launched to accelerate renewable energy development to add at least 300 gigawatts of renewable energy to the continent by 2030.

The second initiative, Africa Power Vision, is based on the Africa Infrastructure Development Program. This framework aims to close Africa’s huge infrastructure divide in transport, energy and water, and information and communications technology.

The third initiative is carried out within the United Nations Development Program framework, “Development with low emissions and resilience to climate change.” It aims to strengthen institutions to improve coordination of climate change action to build resilience to the effects of climate change.

Overall, Africa is expected to harness its immense renewable energy potential in tandem with prices that continue to fall and build capacity rapidly. However, a new study from the University of Oxford refutes this.

The study’s authors still predict that the expansion of electricity supply in Africa will double by 2030. However, they indicate that fossil fuels will continue to dominate the energy mix. Researchers analyzed over 2,500 power plants in Africa and their chances of successful commissioning. They concluded that in 2030 the share of renewables is likely to be less than 10% of the total. “It’s unlikely that Africa’s electricity will go green this decade,” they said.

While the economic development of African countries can only benefit from increased use of renewable energy sources, the researchers say. In the coming years, the electricity demand will increase significantly as industrialization increases, they add. However, the study’s authors estimate that fossil fuels will still account for two-thirds in 2030.

Another 18% in 2030 is likely to come from hydropower. What sounds like good news at first entails several problems. Climate change will increasingly cause droughts, which will negatively affect hydropower production.

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