African energy transitions should be driven from the ground up

@Annie Spratt/Unsplash

Every country on earth is at some stage of an ‘energy transition’ — whether they are currently focused on replacing coal plants with renewables, electrifying transportation, expanding electricity services to all people, or deploying alternatives to cooking with wood and charcoal. What is commonly referred to as ‘the energy transition’ is not one thing: it is a wide spectrum of possible pathways aiming toward a future in which energy is abundant, affordable, and safe for all people.

Energy systems modeling and analysis shapes our climate and economic future by helping decision-makers explore these potential pathways; assess their risks, opportunities, and trade-offs; and develop plans that prioritize and sequence investments and policy choices. Communities with different energy resources and different energy challenges will prioritize different things: therefore, energy transition plans, and the technical analyses that inform them, must reflect the diversity and specificity of local needs and realities. Logically, this suggests that African institutions and experts should be playing a leading role in the planning process.

But Africa’s energy transition planning is not being driven by African-led analysis. African governments and their development partners currently rely heavily on foreign consultants to produce one-off plans or deliverables for major global fora like Conference of the Parties (COP) summits, often with limited involvement by local experts (1). This trend is mirrored in academic research about the continent’s energy transition: A recent report by the Clean Air Task Force found that 63% of published energy transition studies on Africa do not include a single Africa-based author.


Why it Matters

Without local input and leadership, African energy transition plans often lack relevance, credibility, and impact.

First, the lack of African involvement in African energy planning has resulted in plans that are often disconnected from the local context. Energy transitions in Africa — where many countries are working to address critical economic challenges and provide basic services — will be closely intertwined with countries’ development outlooks. Yet only 10% of Africanfocused energy transition studies in the academic literature consider economic growth and poverty as metrics of interest.2 Second, African energy planning too often suffers from insufficient analytical rigor because tools and concepts are applied without being adapted for the local context — and because the planning process remains static, without incorporating the latest locally-relevant data and research.3 Finally, the fact that so many energy plans are driven by non-African actors weakens their local ownership and credibility.4 This results in deficient energy transition narratives and investments that hinder development, resilience, and climate objectives.

With African analysts sidelined, global energy policy and investment largely marginalizes Africa.

African expertise is markedly underrepresented in both the academic research and global political fora around energy transition planning. The majority of African countries have not a single published energy transition study focused on their economy. Three-quarters of energy transition studies on Africa cited in reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are published by only non-Africa-based researchers and only 9% of IPCC authors are from Africa, despite Africans making up 18% of the global population. This underrepresentation helps skew international policy and investment focus away from Africa and towards the perspectives and priorities of wealthy economies, further entrenching African marginalization.

Yet Africa’s energy transitions are critical to the world’s climate and economic future.

To achieve an equitable global net zero future, lower-income and under-electrified countries must play a much bigger role in deciding how we get there. Africa will be home to roughly a quarter of the world’s total population by 2050 and is a vital source of resources critical to achieving global energy and climate goals. Mapping viable pathways to a net zero emissions global energy system cannot happen without African leadership, analysis, and data. A deeper pool of African energy researchers and experts would foster new thinking, knowledge sharing, and technology transfer that benefit all — and stronger African policies, positions, and interlocutors on energy and climate issues would open new channels for global partnership, trade, and investment.


(1) Recent examples include: Energy Transition Plans for Nigeria, Ghana and Kenya were developed by international consulting firm McKinsey in collaboration with Sustainable Energy for All and its funding partners. Foreign technical advisors also play a big role in preparing and updating the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) of most African countries, including through initiatives like the NDC partnership which is managed by the World Resources Institute and supported by global network of implementing partners. IRENA and IAEA are also leading the development of African Union’s Continental Master Plan process.


Excerpt of: Who is Driving Africa’s Energy Future? How to Fix Africa’s Broken Energy Transition Planning Ecosystems (Energy for Growth Hub, 2023)


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