8 - 12 November 2021
Green Tech Projects Across Africa's Regions
With the rise of both government-led projects, alongside smaller scale start-ups that envision a renewable future for Africa, there are many developments currently happening across the continent.
In this article, we will explore the developments regionally across the continent, as well as the challenges that face environmental focussed start-ups to shed light on how the predicted surge in renewable energy in Africa will take form over the coming years.
Made up of vast sandy dunes, little vegetation, and rocks, the Sahara Desert in Africa guarantees two things: heat and sunlight. Posing the question: Should we turn it into a solar farm?
Being blessed with sunshine all year round, North Africa - including areas such as Morocco and Egypt - hold massive potential for solar investment and power.
'The Sahara could potentially produce more than 7,000 times the electricity requirements of Europe, with almost no carbon emissions.' Amin AI-Habaibeh (Professor of Intelligent Engineering Systems, Nottingham Trent University)
However, as Amin Al-Habaibeh says, there are hurdles that many researchers and programmes are finding difficult to breach, namely? Money, investment, and funding for projects that would be large-scale enough to become a viable alternative power source.
Projects such as DESERTEC in 2009 immediately gained funding from banks and energy costs but then lost their backing five years later, its investors citing high costs as the reason.
As Al-Habaibeh acknowledges, projects such as these are often stopped in their tracks, not due to lack of feasibility or research, but a 'variety of political, commercial and social factors, including a lack of rapid development in the region. They are often simply too expensive for regional governments to fund alone.
There has, however, been a more recent project started in Morocco called the Noor Complex Solar Power Plant. Its first phase, Noor 1, has 'surpassed expectations in terms of the amount of energy it has produced', putting the project in good stead to reach its goal to meet the growing need for energy while reducing Morocco's fossil fuel use and build on renewable energy resources. With both regional funding and contributions from the European Union, this project could be an essential precursor of how renewable energy innovations in Africa could have a global reach. Besides meeting domestic needs as Noor 1 has, Morocco hopes to export solar energy to Europe in the future.
Egypt has also made solar power a priority. At the same time, it searches for an alternative way to power its regions - no small feat, being the most populous Arab country, home to more than 100 million people. By 2035 it aims to source 42 per cent of its electricity from renewables.
As we can see, while many clean energy ideas are set in motion, renewable energy entrepreneurs have the challenge of finding funding due to slow returns on investment. Salma Okonkwo highlights one of the main issues being old and outdated risk analysis. There is a discrepancy between some of the largest off-grid solar companies in Africa being driven and backed by Western CEOs and investors. On the other side, despite programmes for financing solar projects increasing, the 'outdated risk analyses keep critical funding out of the hands of African entrepreneurs'.
Kenya is leading the way in green-tech progress, with 90 per cent of its electricity provided by renewable resources. What has Kenya got so right on governance, tech innovation, and the initiation of substantial renewable projects?
Being home to one of the windiest valleys, as highlighted in the Renewable Energy Plan for Kenya by 2050 report, Kenya's 'promising wind power potential' puts its capacity for wind turbines predicted to be above 40 per cent, putting the potential power production at 1,739 Wh/year.
Of these current projects is the massively successful Lake Turkana Wind Power Project (LTWP) - one of the largest wind power plants in Africa with a capacity of 310MW. In March 2019, it hit full commercial operation, driving Kenya's mission to use 100 per cent renewable electricity.
Not only has this played a defining role in Kenya's journey to renewable energy, but it is also paving the way for sister projects such as that underway in the Rift Valley and the Ngong Hills Wind Power Project to grow and expand.
As the report also highlights, because of it being located so near the equator, Kenya has great potential for the use of solar energy throughout the year - this has surged recently in part because of a change in Energy (Solar Water Heating) Regulations in 2012.
'Over the years, Kenya has made remarkable progress in installing renewable energy. The country's Vision 2030 initiative, which aims to turn Kenya into an industrialised, middle-income economy by 2030, targeted 100 per cent renewable energy by 2020.'
Alongside capacity for wind energy, Kenya has been leading the way with geothermal power.
'In the volcanic region of East Africa's Great Rift Valley, tectonic shifts are tearing the continent apart - and releasing unimaginable quantities of clean energy.'
Research has been underway on geothermal power potential along the Rift Valley in Kenya since the 1950s. It is now embarking on Olkaria VI, which according to Cyrus Karingithi, when complete, 'will be the largest single geothermal plant in the world'. What is unique about the Rift Valley is that the heat is near to the surface of the earth, meaning - unlike in other parts of the world - you don't have to drill deep into the ground.
Now Central Africa has among the lowest level of access to electricity, with figures from the World Bank showing only 8.2 per cent of its rural population being able to use it and 14.8 of its urban population.
Like eastern regions in Africa, Central Africa is a prime location for solar farms. Across the regions in Central Africa, the innovative energy solutions provider Trina Solar is committing to covering more grounds, expanding in order to meet the growth in need and desire for energy.
Programmes such as The Regional Off-Grid Electrification Project (ROGEP) - aims to widen access to electricity for households that is not reliant on-grid systems. They have teamed up with Lighting Africa and will work both with regional governments and private companies. In doing so, they hope to improve access to energy for people living in energy poverty.
As they acknowledge, independent or small-scale solar systems hold a vast amount of potential to fix the energy inconsistencies across different regions. It is estimated that the value of the household solar market is about $6.6 billion. With further investment, stand-alone solar systems could electrify 800,000 educational and healthcare facilities.
In the Togolese republic in West Africa, there are several exciting projects in progress using the natural resources of gas and solar. The Tonga Renewable Energy Project under the Pacific Islands Renewable Energy investment programme is expected to be completed in 2023. The region's government has outlined its goal to transform the energy sector by achieving a 70 per cent share of renewables by 2030.
Alongside government-led initiatives come renewable energy start-ups, with Easy Solar being named as 'one to watch' by Business Insider in 2021.
Forging a name for themselves as a route to affordable energy to meet the growing need, Easy Solar uses pay-as-you-go as flexible financing options. At its core, the start-up is about creating affordable solar energy technology. This includes products such as small lanterns, chargers and even home systems for homes in rural areas where they have less access to electricity.
It was founded in 2016, and since they have created 600 new jobs across operating regions in Sierra Leone and Liberia.
As industry and population increase, the need for power does as well. This has been causing issues in South Africa in particular, where they are experiencing periodic power cuts. There are interruptions in power for 'two to four hours a day' between 40-50 days a year.
This, acknowledges Eskom (power provider in South Africa), is likely to continue for as long as five years unless something is done to speed up the setting up of new power plants. Nevertheless, seeing as the old power plants undergo depletion and no longer seem fit to serve their purpose, it begs the question: do they go for more gas, coal and nuclear, or is this a chance to push renewables?
While renewables cannot offer a quick fix to the problem, there is a shift in focus to solar and wind power in the long term. Neither, though, can coal nor nuclear. Power blackouts are expected to continue in South Africa until 2026. Still, there are positives: 'this is likely to act as a catalyst for growth in small to medium scale solar installations.
Where old systems are failing, there is the chance to innovate.
Challenges and hurdles to overcome en route to green tech in Africa
Entrepreneurs and those looking to implement innovative long-term policy and programmes no doubt face many challenges, including high costs that are inherent to the energy sector and limited access to funding. As investment in renewable energy often has a slow return, it can put off investors. In terms of information and technical capacity, simply limited technological capabilities interfere with the progression of projects. With this also comes uneven policies across different countries and regions–one thing that many start-ups, as well as large scale renewable project leaders, pinpoint as vital in driving projects forward is unity.
However, things are changing, and there continues to be an uptick in funding and investment in start-ups and renewable energy programmes, even despite the humanitarian and economic crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic. What is crucial is that developments in tech present a new opportunity for investors both locally and globally to invest in cost-reducing technology that aligns with climate and sustainability targets.
What is clear is that the advancements in green tech in Africa offer options for energy - whether wind, solar, hydro or geothermal. Collectively The IRENA report found that countries could 'contribute to meet 22 per cent of Africa's total final energy consumption by 2030' - This is four times more than 5 per cent in 2013.
As the potential for renewable, clean energy is realised, Africa stands on the precipice of a complete shift in its current reality and one that has the potential to affect the world.