As the world grapples with the need to rapidly decarbonise, it is clear that solutions for the transport and energy sectors are intrinsically linked. As Africa’s e-mobility sector grows, demand for clean power to charge vehicle batteries is mounting. E-mobility holds great promise for reducing emissions and cutting air pollution, whilst enabling people to continue to travel for education, healthcare, employment, and trade. However, if the sector is to realise this promise, access to affordable, clean energy will be key. Energy access is also crucial if those same students are to study into the evenings, those clinics are to provide safe healthcare to patients on arrival, and those businesses and traders are to reliably power their businesses to promote sustainable economic growth.
With this increased demand for energy, we are seeing more opportunities to develop new renewable energy infrastructure – both on and off-grid. With high solar irradiation levels, African countries are particularly well placed to capitalise on the falling costs and faster deployment capabilities of solar.
Solar also has enormous potential to complement existing hydro power generation, with larger hydro dams exploring the installation of floating solar or enabling the use of hydro as a ‘battery’. The two technologies can complement each other by smoothing the intermittency of solar – enabling utilities to switch to using hydro during the evenings – and helping to mitigate against the vulnerability of hydro power stations to the impacts of climate change on their water levels and power generation capacity.
E-mobility and solar power – it makes sense to combine our efforts.
In rural and remote areas, installing battery charging stations such as those being rolled out across Zimbabwe by Mobility for Africa, not only enables drivers to charge the batteries of their three-wheeler ‘Hambas’, but, in the future, will enable nearby communities to access solar power, often for the first time. The vehicle batteries themselves also hold the potential to act as storage for excess renewable energy which can be used during the evening or overnight, powering vital medical equipment, computers and refrigerators that require consistent access to electricity.
In urban areas, companies such as Zembo Electric Motorcycles are installing new solar infrastructure to charge batteries for their two-wheeler ‘boda bodas’.
Such installations also boost the stability of the wider grid, reducing the use of diesel generators, and improving urban air quality. Generating energy from the sun also cuts out the additional costs and emissions connected with transporting fossil fuels to where they are needed and protects consumers from exposure to fluctuating global oil prices.
Growing the wider ‘green economy.’
Expanding the availability of charging infrastructure in urban and rural areas not only enables e-mobility businesses to expand their offering, becoming profitable and accelerating the transition to electric vehicles, but it also builds a workforce of skilled technicians. These trained individuals not only build and maintain the vehicles themselves but are also able to refurbish batteries – extending their useable lifespan – and maintain the solar mini-grid infrastructure itself. These skills are transferrable to other solar installations, building a skilled solar sector workforce and creating jobs in the green economy for Africa’s youthful population.
There are also exciting opportunities for solar to play a role in the marine transport sector. The latest Waterbus passenger ferry – the MV Malcolm – launched from Kisumu, Kenya in December 2023 with pioneering solar-boost technology incorporated during the vessel build to maximise its fuel-efficiency. Here again, the development of green jobs is happening, the vessel was wholly built in Kenya and the skills acquired in its construction will inform work to incorporate solar technology on future vessels as well as equipping those individuals with skills that are transferrable to the wider solar and e-mobility sectors.
With the right investment and support to build local capacity, the future of both e mobility and solar power in Africa is bright!
Young People’s Potential, the Key to Africa’s Sustainable Development Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States
Excerpt from: Annual Solar Outlook report 2024, AFSIA, 2024