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Why solar power is key to Africa’s post-Covid growth

By Alberto Leny
Wednesday, September 30th, 2020
Solar panel. Photo/Courtesy
In summary
    • African countries can emerge with a renewed momentum if the international community helps them develop secure, affordable and sustainable energy, especially for their most vulnerable citizens.
    • For Africa, focus is on attaining the UN SDG number 7 of affordable and clean energy by investing in solar, wind and thermal power, improving energy productivity, and ensuring energy for all.

Electricity is a necessity of life that drives domestic and industrial consumption. 

It is also a catalyst for socio-economic development powering household, commercial and engineering applications.

Today, governments in Africa including Kenya face a daunting task trying to address the persistent lack of access to electricity and clean cooking, and the unreliability of electricity supply, which have thwarted development initiatives. 

Energy shortage challenge in sub-Saharan Africa has now been compounded by the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, which is threatening to reverse the gains made over the past decades.

However, expert optimism projects that Africa’s vast renewable sources and falling technology costs could drive double-digit growth in deployment of utility-scale and distributed PV, and other renewables across the continent.

Solar captive PV deployment averaging 15GW a year is expected to reach 320GW in 2040, overtaking hydropower and natural gas as the largest electricity source in terms of installed capacity.

Power generation

Renewable energy is likely to make up almost half of Africa’s power generation by 2040 as the continent continues to unlock its vast renewable energy resources led by solar energy.

Currently just 10 per cent of Africa’s hydropower potential is being exploited. 

Kenya’s performance targets in the energy sector outlined in the National Electrical Strategy aim at achieving universal electricity service at acceptable quality levels to all households by 2022. 

Industrial development targets include increasing the contribution of the manufacturing sector share of gross domestic  to 15 per cent by 2022, developing domestic iron and steel industries by 2030 and achieving middle-income status by 2030. 

All these ambitious targets are factored in national economic development plans and policy measures outlined in the 2020/2021 Budget Policy statement.

The measures which prioritises investments in President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Big Four agenda will depend on energy supply, specifically electricity.

The agenda focuses on food security, affordable housing, manufacturing and universal health coverage.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), 600 million people in Africa (two-thirds of the population) do not have access to electricity and around 900 million lack access to clean cooking. 

Created in 1974 to ensure the security of oil supplies, IEA has over the years evolved to focus on electricity security, investments, climate change, air pollution and energy access and efficiency.

As the world grapples with the disruptions caused by the Covid-19 crisis, governments are increasingly finding it difficult to meet the United Nations sustainable development goal of bringing affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy to all.

In a commentary in the Africa Report of June 29, IEA Executive Director Dr Fatih Birol and Senegal’s Minister of Petroleum and Energy Mouhamadou Makhtar Cisse noted that although African economies are among the fastest growing in the world, sub-Saharan Africa faces its first recession in a quarter century due to Covid-19:

He observed that economic development starts with access to modern energy because it underpins vital food supplies, powers homes and hospitals and enables people to work, study and travel. 

“Now a global pandemic is threatening vulnerable populations, pushing millions towards extreme poverty,” Birol said.

Dynamic continen

However, they two see a ray of hope for the world’s fastest growing population in Africa, the youngest and most demographically dynamic continent. 

These new citizens, they added, deserve access to reliable, affordable and sustainable energy to pursue healthy, prosperous lives for themselves, families and societies.

Unleashing this dynamism will require energy.  Africa’s surface area has 40 per cent of the world’s potential solar resources, but it currently houses just 1 per cent of global solar capacity for generating electricity. 

“With smart policies and efficient implementation, solar power could become the continent’s top electricity source,” say Birol and Cisse.  

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