A move to renewable energy could grow Africa’s economy by 6.4%

An integrated policy framework built around the energy transition could bring a wave of new sustainable energy investment to Africa, growing the continent’s economy by 6.4% by 2050, according to an analysis published by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) in collaboration with the African Development Bank (AfDB).

“Renewable Energy Market Analysis: Africa and Its Regions” shows that Africa is “prospering significantly” from development enabled by renewables, while greatly improving energy access and offering profound welfare and environmental benefits to people across the continent.

(Read “Ensuring a just green energy transition in emerging economies.”)

Coal, natural gas and oil together account for about 70% of Africa’s total electricity generation, and conventional power attracts far more funding than renewables, owing to an established process that favors less capital-intensive thermal generation, the report notes. Energy transition finance must become more readily accessible. Coordinated efforts should be made to ensure public spending – the dominant source of energy transition finance in Africa – clearly prioritizes renewables.

“Africa’s governments and people are too often asked to rely on unsustainable fossil fuels to power their development when renewable energy and energy efficiency solutions offer economically attractive and socially beneficial alternatives,” said Francesco La Camera, IRENA director-general. “The transition offers a unique opportunity for Africa to meet its development imperatives. Through tailored policy packages, African countries can harness their strengths and resources to overcome long-established structural dependencies.”

Of the $2.8 trillion invested in renewables globally between 2000 and 2020, only 2% went to Africa, despite the continent’s renewable energy potential and its need to bring modern energy to billions of citizens. While the rate of access to energy in Sub-Saharan Africa rose from 33% to 46% over the past decade, rapid population growth meant 570 million people still lacked electricity access in 2019.

Specific to hydropower, the report said that 17.4% of all electricity generation on the continent came from hydropower in 2019. At almost 34 GW capacity by the end of 2020, hydropower is the renewable energy source used most extensively for power generation.

Also, 24% of all renewable capacity additions in 2019 and 2020 were hydropower. Countries with the most installed hydropower (including pumped storage) capacity in 2020 were Ethiopia with 4,071 MW, Angola with 3,729 MW, South Africa with 3,479 MW, Egypt with 2,832 MW and the Democratic Republic of the Congo with 2,750 MW.

The Delft University of Technology estimates the continent’s unexploited hydropower potential to be 1,753 GW, with Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Mozambique and Zambia leading. Ethiopia is building yet another mega-project, the 6 GW Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which will be the largest in Africa in terms of capacity when it enters into operation in 2022.

The African Development Bank Group comprises three entities: AfDB, the African Development Fund (ADF) and the Nigeria Trust Fund (NTF). The bank contributes to the economic development and the social progress of its 54 regional member states.

IRENA is an intergovernmental agency for the global energy transformation that supports countries in their transition to a sustainable energy future and serves as the principal platform for international co-operation, a center of excellence, and a repository of policy, technology, resource and financial knowledge on renewable energy.


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