The African Business Review | 23
A few weeks ago, I was privileged to view excerpts of a
conference about energy in Africa. It was a very buzzing
atmosphere where ideas flowed from session to session.
Most of the delegates were senior executive officers of
energy companies. Speaking with so much confidence, all
speakers were very optimistic about the prospects of energy
security in Africa.
It is no secret that there is an ongoing energy revolution
taking place worldwide. Many countries are making
conscious efforts in becoming more energy independent
and sustainable. In achieving this, all energy options are
being considered and in the past ten years, renewable energy
sources have been the most prominent.The rationale for any
country seeking to be energy independent is clear; to reduce
exposure to unreliable energy imports and attain a state of
energy security. The technicalities of achieving these are
unlimited but often intricate.
In the past decade, clean energy sources have been
in the forefront of championing the new course of energy
development globally. Energy sources such as wind, solar,
hydropower, biomass, tidal, wave and geothermal have all
been harnessed to increase the Total Electricity Installed
Capacities of nations and, of course, their power generation
indices. At the end of 2012, the installed capacity of wind
power worldwide was 282,400MW, with a growth rate of
30% annually. Solar electricity is also recording momentous
developments globally with a capacity of 100,000MW by
December 2012. It is also interesting to know that about
60% of large new renewable energy installations (excluding
hydropower) were commissioned in the past ten years.
In the same time frame, Africa’s energy climate has
been perpetually described as appalling. The continent’s
progress of energy development has varied widely for
several years. Very few countries have recorded significant
successes while most have stagnated or deteriorated.This has
been attributed majorly to lack of policy implementation,
incompetent human capital and corruption. In a recent
energy fact sheet released by the World Bank, 24 of Africa’s
54 countries are described to be in energy crisis situations.
Most other African countries lack even basic power facilities
adequate to cater for their citizens. Today, power is erratic,
inaccessible and widely pricey for many in Africa. This has
been partly responsible for the low standard of living and
hardship the continent faces.
So what is Africa’s current energy mix? Fossil fuel based
power generation is the sole largest electricity generation in
Africa contributing about 60% of the continent’s electricity
supply. Hydropower and coal are the other major energy
sources making up about 32% and 7% respectively. These
resources present a huge challenge to the continent as
By Lanre Okanlawon
The African energy mix: Adopting renewables
24| The African Business Review
they are not evenly distributed and are limited. As a result, most
African countries are significantly vulnerable to supply uncertainties.
Without energy security and the appropriate mix of energy sources,
most countries in Africa risk disappointing investors as well as their
As you will agree, the ultimate solution to any country’s
energy problem is not necessarily from a single energy source,
but instead, a combination of several sources to achieve efficient,
reliable and sustainable energy generation to distribution processes
while preserving the environment. Africa is endowed with a broad
range of renewable energy resources ranging from wind and solar
to geothermal and hydropower. Other sources such as biomass, tidal
and wave energy are also very valid clean energy sources.
The good news is that in all of these, there is a genuine opportunity
for investors, African policy makers, governments and other
stakeholders to turn this menace around for the better. Based on
data from Bloomberg new energy finance, there is a new trend in
global renewable energy investments. Renewable energy investors
are gradually shifting to developing countries as financiers seek for
viable opportunities in regions with broad,underdeveloped portfolios
of green energy resources. Africa’s renewable energy sources are very
many and are evenly distributed in large amounts. The continent is
bounded by the Indian Ocean in the east and the Atlantic Ocean in
the west which possess vast ocean winds and currents. Solar energy
on its own is undoubtedly the chief clean energy source available.
Another largely untapped, freely occurring renewable energy source
is geothermal (ground source heat) in eastern Africa. South Africa,
Egypt, Morocco and Kenya are some of the few countries that have
identified these potentials and have taken commendable steps to
creating enabling environments for renewable energy initiatives.
Their new approach to energy development has galvanized their
economies and attracted foreign investors.
In the last couple of months, South Africa’s renewable energy
market witnessed an optimistic outlook as it ramped up another gear.
RustMo1, a 7MW solar photovoltaic power generating facility is
scheduled to commence power generation in November 2013. Also,
Google Inc. announced its first renewable energy project in Africa;
a $12million in South Africa’s Jasper Power Project, a solar energy
Also, Egypt and Morocco have actively reformed their
electricity sectors by creating energy policies to encourage renewable
energy investments in power generation. They have also set modest
targets to be met in the near future. Crucial laws have been passed
by their respective parliaments to create competitive energy markets
and attract domestic and foreign investors. This has unquestionably
boosted wind, solar and hydropower projects in these northern
African countries. Morocco has an ambitious renewable energy
programme seeking to generate more than 40% of its energy from
renewable energy. At the moment, Morocco has 7 completed wind
farms, the largest of which is the 140MW Tanger Farm.
Moving over to the east, a significant amount of Kenya’s electricity
generation is from geothermal sources via 2 power plants; Olkaria I
(45MW) and Olkaria II (65MW). As Africa’s pioneer geothermal
nation, Kenya has exploited the vast ground source heat from the
Great Rift Valley of east Africa. The geothermal plants supplement
the overall energy generated from Kenya’s hydropower stations, a
petroleum-fired plant and imported electricity from Uganda.
The adoption of renewable energy in Africa proffers a huge
opportunity to improve socio-economic indices and living standards.
Better access to electricity will also go a long way to reduce poverty
and ensure environmental sustainability. In many parts of Africa,
millions live kilometres away from developed towns and cities and
are not connected to the grid. Renewable energy sources provide
clean energy alternatives in such cases for the provision of off-grid
electricity supplies to less privileged people in very remote areas.Also,
the urban population growth being witnessed in many African cities
poses a great challenge on existing electricity infrastructures.This can
be enhanced by including renewable resources.In the words of United
Nations’ Environment Program Executive Director, Achim Steiner,
“the uptake of renewable energies continues worldwide as countries,
companies and communities seize the linkages between low-carbon
green economies and a future of energy access and security”.
Strong economies all over the world are highly dependent on
accessible, reliable and affordable electricity supplies. One of the
obvious ways that Africa can achieve global competitiveness is to
significantly provide electricity access as a very clear relationship
exists between economic activity and electricity use. Africa’s future
prosperity requires a change from the status quo; a deviation from the
current total reliance on conventional energy sources.
About the Author:
Lanre Okanlawon is the founder of Greenicles and a Renewable
Energy masters degree holder from Durham University. He currently
works in the UK’s largest renewable energy electricity company. As
an individual, Lanre has a strong interest in the development of
green sources of energy and the environment. Recently, he has been
covering renewable energy prospects and opportunities in Africa.
“Progress in energy development in most
African countries has stagnated or deteriorated.
This has been attributed majorly to lack of policy
implementation, incompetent human capital and
“One of the obvious ways that Africa can achieve
global competitiveness is to significantly provide
electricity access; a very clear relationship exists
between economic activity and electricity use.”