Africa is betting on renewable energies for its electrification

For many observers, Africa holds here a formidable opportunity to avoid the impasse of development based on hydrocarbons and to electrify its territories directly from renewable energies. It is true that the continent, populated by more than 1.3 billion people, has enormous potential in solar, wind, hydroelectric, biomass and biogas.

Although the situation is obviously not uniform across the continent, Africa has already started to exploit its potential, especially in solar photovoltaic energy. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena), Africa has solar energy potential of 10 TW. Currently, two technologies convert the sun’s natural energy into electricity, photovoltaic solar and thermodynamic solar. Some African countries are already redoubling their efforts to take advantage of this abundant natural resource.

Energy development driven by solar

Thanks to a single project, notably the Benban solar complex in the governorate of Aswan, Egypt has developed a solar capacity of 1,650 MWp, for a renewable energy production capacity of more than 6 GW, combining the hydroelectricity and wind power. But the share of solar is expected to rise further in Egypt’s electricity mix, which currently stands at 14%, thanks to Cairo’s policy of producing 42% of its electricity from renewable primary energy sources by 2035.

Across the continent, in South Africa, the recent energy transition strategy developed by the authorities has enabled the construction of new solar power plants, bringing solar capacity to 2,323 MW, the equivalent of the electrical capacity installed in a country like Côte d’Ivoire (2,200 MW, officially).

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Across the continent, solar power plants totaled 4.15 GWp of production capacity in 2017, more than half of which was in South Africa, according to the 2018 report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena). Since then, this capacity has greatly increased with the commissioning of many power plants in South Africa, the Benban solar complex in Egypt, the inauguration of the Noor Ouarzazate solar complex (580 MW) in Morocco, as well as other large solar power plants connected to grids in sub-Saharan Africa.

If solar energy is currently experiencing such rapid development in Africa, it is also thanks to decentralized systems, off-grids, used for the electrification of rural areas, mining sites or businesses. It is difficult to measure the cumulative production capacity of these solutions. But, according to the 2019 Global Association for the Off-Grid Solar Power Industry (Gogla) report, mini-grids and solar home systems were providing electricity to 100 million people around the world, including much of it in sub-Saharan Africa.

The promises of wind power

As for wind power, another major source of renewable energy, it was exploited in Africa long before the development of solar power. The continent is heavily windswept which can be harnessed to generate electricity on a large scale. According to the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a subsidiary of the World Bank, the African continent has a technical potential of wind resources of more than 59,000 GW, enough to meet 250 times the energy demand of the continent, estimates the World Council. wind power (Gwec).

In its 2020 report, the institution indicates that in 2020 around 821 MW of new wind capacity was installed in Africa and the Middle East, bringing the region’s total capacity to more than 7 GW. However, this installed capacity only represents 0.01% of the wind power potential of the African continent. For the time being, this energy is produced mainly from onshore wind farms. South Africa, which today asserts a certain leadership in the field, has an installed wind capacity of 2,323 MW according to Power Africa, the program supported by the United States Agency for International Development (Usaid ). For its part, Egypt is pursuing the development of wind power projects in the Gulf of Suez thanks to investments from independent power producers (IPP) such as Engie, Siemens Gamesa and Lekela Power.

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The latter provided Senegal with the very first Afr wind farm West ique. The facility located in the town of Taïba Ndiaye has a capacity of 158.7 MW. Like Senegal, wind farms are operational in Morocco, Kenya and Namibia. These countries will soon be joined by Ethiopia and Djibouti thanks in particular to their respective wind farms of Assela (100 MW) and Ghoubet (60 MW), currently built by Siemens Gamesa.

The development of hydroelectricity

In addition to wind power, hydroelectricity contributes significantly to the lighting of Africa. The largest ongoing project on the continent is in Ethiopia. This country in the Horn of Africa is building the great Ethiopian Renaissance (Gerd) dam on the Nile. The facility, whose second filling was completed in July 2021, will soon have a hydropower plant that will inject 6,450 MW into Ethiopia’s national electricity grid. More than 5,100 km away, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the government is slow to launch the construction phase of the 11,050 MW Inga III hydroelectric megaproject on the Congo River. In East Africa, the Stiegler’s Gorge hydropower project is progressing and is expected to eventually inject 2,100 MW into Tanzania’s national electricity grid.

Among the countries with high hydroelectric potential in Africa, there is of course the DRC, but also Cameroon, both located in Central Africa. The two countries located in the Congo Basin alone have 60% of the continent’s hydroelectric potential, which however remains largely untapped to date.

Africa currently has an installed hydropower capacity of 38,174 MW according to the International Hydropower Association (IHA). Yet, according to the African Development Bank (AfDB), only 5% of Africa’s hydropower potential is used so far.

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In West Africa alone, the hydroelectric potential is around 25,000 MW, mainly in the countries bordering the Gulf of Guinea, notably Nigeria (37%), Guinea (26%), Ghana (11%) , Côte d’Ivoire (11%) and Sierra Leone (5%), according to the book The return of large hydraulic investments in West Africa: perspectives and challenges, published by CIRAD (French Center for international cooperation in agricultural research for development).

Renewable energy sources still underexploited

Among the renewable energy sources still very little exploited in Africa is geothermal energy. Generating geothermal energy involves harnessing natural heat from underground to generate electricity using steam turbines. Geothermal power plants operational or under construction on the continent are concentrated in East Africa, mainly in the rift valley. Kenya is by far the largest producer of geothermal energy on the African continent, with an installed electrical capacity of 713 MWe, out of a potential of 7,000 MWe estimated by the AfDB. Close to Kenya, several countries in East Africa, including Ethiopia, Zambia, Uganda and Tanzania are also trying to exploit their geothermal potential, without tangible results for the moment.

Regarding biomass, electricity is produced by recovering the heat released by the incineration of wood, plants, agricultural waste or organic household waste. According to the agro-industrial group Sifca, biomass still remains the main source of energy in sub-Saharan Africa and represents 60% to 80% of energy balances in most countries. This biomass comes from wood used for cooking or heating. At the moment, there are very few biomass power plants that produce electricity on a large scale. But two promising projects are being implemented in Côte d’Ivoire. In the future Divo biomass plant, the heat from the combustion of cocoa pods will produce between 60 and 70 MW of electricity. In Ayébo, Électricité de France (EDF) and its partners Meridiam and Sifca will use the same technology for the recovery of oil palm waste in the Biovéa biomass plant.

Biogas is also used from biomass. It is a very clean gas, produced by the fermentation of organic matter in the absence of oxygen. This gas can be produced from agricultural and household waste, as well as animal dung. In Africa, biogas easily replaces wood and charcoal, still widely used for cooking. While biogas is still little produced, there are good examples that give cause for optimism. On the shores of Lake Victoria, biodigesters help eliminate water hyacinth, an invasive plant that is a real scourge for the preservation of the lake’s resources.

Programs that encourage the production of renewable energies

In addition to the implemented megaprojects In Egypt with the Benban solar complex or even in Morocco with its Noor complex, major local, sub-regional or regional programs and projects are being implemented in Africa. The Electricity Supply Program by Independent Renewable Energy Producers (REIPPP) is one of the major initiatives launched locally to accelerate the production of clean energy. The program implemented by the South African government aims to attract IPP investment.

Thus, thanks to public-private partnerships (PPP), many renewable energy plants have sprung up within the rainbow nation, making the country an indisputable model for the production of renewable energy. Moreover, the 5th phase of REIPPP calls for tenders, the results of which are still awaited, recorded 102 proposals for a target of 2,600 MW of clean energy.

The contribution of development banks

PPIs are also at the center of the Scaling Solar program. This IFC initiative aims to encourage private companies to invest in solar energy to supply energy to the national electricity grid of the beneficiary countries of the program, and to ensure the rapid execution of projects, notably through the establishment of public partnerships. private (PPP). Among the main beneficiary countries of the program is Senegal, which has obtained two photovoltaic solar power plants for a total capacity of 60 MWp. Scaling Solar also benefits Côte d’Ivoire, Togo, Niger, Mali, Zambia, Ethiopia and Madagascar.

In addition to the IFC, the AfDB has also launched a program for the large-scale production of solar photovoltaic energy. The Desert to Power initiative aims to accelerate the deployment of solar energy in the Sahel, the strengthening of the transport network, the deployment of off-grid solutions, the improvement of the business climate, with the revitalization of the national companies of electricity. Through this program which covers 11 African countries (Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sudan and Chad), the AfDB wants to provide solar energy to 250 million people living in the Sahelian band. The Pan-African Development Bank thus aims to make the Sahel the largest solar energy production area on the continent, with an installed capacity of 10,000 MWp.

Source: Afrik21