Renewable energy strengthens energy security in Africa

From energy importers to exporters, Africa is composed of different energy profiles. Despite conventional energy plants representing the predominant source of generation, oil, gas, and coal reserves can only be found in a handful of African countries. Many of those have developed extensive energy-producer economies around those resources. Yet most African economies remain highly dependent on energy imports – a situation expected to continue despite recent discoveries and a new surge in oil and gas exploration. History has shown that continued energy dependency on hydrocarbons can represent ongoing risks to the security of supply. In light of last year’s crises where energy security has taken center stage, it is important to analyze energy diversification and transition trends from a security perspective and note implications for Africa’s energy variety.

Diversifying the energy mix and transitioning to renewable energy sources protects from environmental risk, improves energy security, and fosters economic diversification. Renewable energy is effective for energy security in the long term because resources are local and indigenous. Unlike fossil fuels that are typically found in only a handful of countries, renewable energy sources in Africa are abundant, widely distributed, and can be harnessed locally, reducing the risks associated with supply disruptions and price fluctuations. With some of the highest potential in solar, hydro, wind, and geothermal capacities around the world, the continent is well endowed to achieve energy security. On average, Africa is exposed to 2,119 kilowatt-hours per square meter (kWh/m2 ) of solar irradiation annually (IRENA, 2022c). Wind energy is also abundant, particularly in coastal areas and high-altitude regions. Hydropower is already a significant energy source in Africa, particularly in Ethiopia, Uganda, and Zambia. Many countries have untapped hydroelectric potential, with large rivers and waterfalls that could be used to generate electricity and micro-hydro potential along smaller water streams. Geothermal energy is also abundant in some parts of Africa, particularly in East Africa’s Great Rift Valley. Countries such as Kenya and Ethiopia have already developed geothermal energy projects and are leading the way in this area (See Box 3 – Energy security (Kenya)). Technology dependence on fossil fuels perpetuates unsustainable practices and undermines efforts to mitigate climate change. In contrast, renewables reduce dependence on volatile fossil fuels, free up import resources, and set economies on a path to long-term secure and sustainable development. By promoting the development of renewable energy technologies, countries can reduce their dependence on finite and increasingly expensive fossil fuel resources and strengthen resilience and energy security in the long term. It is important that these developments are developed in accord to a just energy transition approach.

Africa has the resources to become a renewable powerhouse. The solar capacity potential is estimated at 10 TW, hydro energy at about 350 GW, wind at 110 GW, and geothermal resources at 15 GW. It has the potential to generate up to 24,000 TWh of electricity each year – 90% of the world’s electricity production in 2018 – and 26 times that currently generated by the continent (AfDB, 2018). These amounts of resources have the potential to provide sustainable and affordable energy to the hundreds of millions of Africans lacking modern energy access today. In addition, using indigenous well-distributed renewable sources can reduce fossil fuel imports and costs for importer countries, thereby improving energy security.

Critical minerals are a new focus for the global energy transition. The global demand for critical minerals is increasing rapidly due to the growing demand for clean energy technologies. Many of these minerals are in short supply and prevalent in a few countries, which can create vulnerabilities in the global supply chain. Central and southern parts of Africa have abundant mineral resources essential to the production of electric batteries, wind turbines, and other low-carbon technologies. These critical minerals – including for example lithium, cobalt, platinum, and rare earth elements – are becoming increasingly important to address the growing demand for batteries, solar panels, wind turbines, etc. worldwide. The availability of critical minerals in Africa presents an opportunity to enhance global energy security while promoting economic growth and development in the region. A responsible and sustainable approach to the extraction and production of these minerals in Africa can benefit both the local communities and the global energy transition in Africa. Many barriers are still to be overcome before these become fully accessible, including weak governance and ESG concerns. But the potential for local transformation, sustainable and responsible extraction and production of these minerals in Africa could significantly enhance the continent’s energy security by localizing the supply chain and reducing the risks associated with dependence on a few dominant producers. This in turn could help to boost economic growth, create jobs, and support the wider transition to a low-carbon economy in the long term.


Excerpt of: Africa’s Energy Future is Renewable (RES4Africa Foundation 2023)


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