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Harnessing the power of renewable energy in Africa

A case of do or die for Africa to reduce its reliance on fossil fuel for generating electricity

Africa is estimated to contribute less than 4% to the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

But global warming will have the most devastating effect on Africa and the livlihoods of its people if the world fails to take urgent action to reduce the speed at which temperatures rise.

Expected impacts of climate change on the continent include changing rainfall patterns leading to floods and drought and affecting agriculture, food security, and water resources; and rising sea levels affecting low-lying coastal areas.

African countries are expected to play their part by collectively committing to reduce the continent’s contribution to greenhouse emissions by 32% by 2030.

Forecasts by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) indicate that with the right policies, regulation, governance and access to financial markets, sub-Saharan Africa could meet up to 67% of its energy needs within the next decade.

In an article in the United Nations publication Africa Renewal it says countries like Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Morocco and South Africa are leading energy transition efforts on the continent.

Some of Africa’s smaller countries including Cape Verde, Djibouti, Rwanda and Swaziland have also set ambitious renewable energy targets.

Others are following suit, and renewable energy projects are on the rise across the continent.

For example, Africa has shown great progress in the development of its solar energy markets over the recent years, mainly driven by Egypt, South Africa, Kenya, Namibia and Ghana, it says.


Ghana’s 10-year plan

Ghana has developed a 10-year master plan that provides a framework for the development of renewable energy resources, says Seyram Dzikunu, partner at Bentsi-Enchill, Letsa & Ankomah, a member of the Lex Africa legal alliance.

The largest contributors to renewable energy capacity in the country are the Bui Power Authority and the Volta River Authority (VRA), the two government entities responsible for power generation, says Dzikunu.

She says Ghana currently has an installed renewable energy generation capacity of 98.9MW, and has targeted a capacity of 1363.63 MW by 2030.

“The relevant renewable energy sources are solar, wind, hydro, biomass and waste-to-energy.”

Renewable energy projects currently in operation include the 50MW Bui solar power plant, 20MW BXC solar power plant, the 6.5MW Lawra and 2.5MW Navrongo solar power plants, and the 45kW Tsatsadu mini-hydropower plant.

Additional projects earmarked for development include the 225MW Ayitepe wind farm project, 50MW Windstar power project, 60MW Pwalugu mini-hydropower plant, and the 13MW Kaleo solar power plant.

“Ghana has a sunshine duration of 1800 hours to 3000 hours per annum,” says Dzikunu.

She says the VRA is also working with two wind developers, Vestas and El Sewedy, to develop 150MW of wind power at four sites in the southern part of the country.

Electricity generation capacity is currently provided by large hydropower plants, thermal power plants and renewables, and supply exceeds demand in the country.

As a result, Ghana currently exports power to its close neighbours Togo, Benin and Burkina Faso.

“The current excess capacity is due to commitments to take-or-pay projects when the country was short of power,” says Dzikunu.

This led to a moratorium on the issuing of licenses for new projects in 2018, which is now hindering the deployment of new large-scale renewable projects.

However, through the Ministry of Energy, the government has recently indicated an intention to lift the moratorium, says Dzikunu.

“This will enable the new projects to take off so that the government can meet its targets.”


Other notable examples

One of the many other notable examples of renewable energy progress in Africa, is that more than a third of Morocco’s electricity is already renewable, thanks to the Noor Quarzazate Solar Power Station, the world’s largest concentrated solar power farm, according to IRENA.

Then there is Angola, a country blessed with many rivers, who’s hydropower potential is among the highest in Africa, estimated at 18200 MW.

Angola’s hydropower development has been mainly located on the Kwanza River, the country’s largest river, as well as the Cunene River, in the south of the country near the Namibian border.

The Angolan government’s stated aim is to grow its hydropower generation capacity from around 1200 MW to 9000 MW by 2025.

According to analysis by the University of Oxford, Southern Africa will lead the way in the transition to renewables, with South Africa adding almost 40% of Africa’s total predicted new solar capacity by 2030.

It says Namibia is committed to generating 70% of its electricity needs from renewable sources, including all the major alternative sources such as hydropower, wind and solar generation, within the same timeframe.

Nevertheless the study predicts that in 2030, fossil fuels will still account for two-thirds of all generated electricity across Africa.

An additional 18% of generation is set to come from hydro-energy projects, although these are vulnerable to an increasing number of droughts caused by climate change.


Investment potential

The current outlook for investment in renewable energy projects across Africa is looking increasingly positive.

One of Africa’s largest renewables companies, Lekela, recently announced plans to invest about $2 billion to more than double its renewable power capacity on the continent over the next five years.

The company, which focuses on solar and wind power, currently has projects of some 1300 MW across Ghana, Egypt, Senegal and South Africa.

It is planning to install another 1500 MW over the next five to seven years, expand its market reach and invest in battery storage, green hydrogen and desalination plants.

Another major renewably energy player with interests in Africa is multinational Gigawatt Global Coöperatief UA, which focuses on the development and management of utility-scale solar fields in emerging markets.

It has offices and presence in Ghana, Burundi, Ethiopia, Nigeria, and South Sudan, and has a pipeline of projects on the go in Benin, Ethiopia, Kenya, South Sudan, Namibia, Zambia, and Egypt, among others.


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