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Harnessing Africa’s green energy opportunities

Electricity is often taken for granted, just like the water supply. As vital as it is for modern life and the functioning of society, over one billion people in the world don’t have access to electricity. More than half of these humans live in sub-Saharan Africa.

Electricity production is an expensive and logistically-complicated process. The demand for more power is also increasing every year as the global population grows, leading to more shortages in many countries.

In Zimbabwe, for example, most of the population relies on fuel-burning generators and expensive battery inverters for a steady supply of electricity. Equipment such as this has become part of daily life where the capital city experiences 6-hour power cuts every day.

Africa needs to embrace green energy

African nations not only have to supply increasing amounts of electricity, but they also need to keep it affordable for all of society. The United Nations is also pushing for cleaner sources of energy which adds to the challenges faced by local governments and regional bodies.

Funding and investment in renewable sources of energy have become a priority for many African nations. Despite the economic and political challenges, green energy is an attractive opportunity for investors and foreign funders.

One advantage that Africa has over the rest of the world is its lower number of fossil fuel energy production facilities. This makes converting to renewable energy sources easier and more beneficial to the electricity supply grid. Construction of renewable sources of energy will help the region meet its energy demands in a more cost-effective way.

Abundant sources of energy in Africa

Africa is a sunny continent (unlike northern Europe) and so the most common form of clean energy that is beginning to emerge is solar power. Most of these are small-scale installations for farms and individual houses, but energy ministries are investing in larger solar power plants such as the Khi Solar One project in South Africa.

This project uses an array of mirrors to direct the sun’s energy onto a central tower. The massive amount of heat directed at the tower is stored in molten salts which is then used to generate steam. This steam drives a turbine which generates 50 megawatts of electricity for the grid.

Many houses in Zimbabwe and South Africa, particularly new government-funded houses, are equipped with solar panels and solar geysers. This provides light and hot water for the occupants without having to draw too much electricity from the national grids.  

Wind is also an abundant natural phenomenon in many coastal regions of Africa. In South Africa, the Eastern Cape has become home to multiple wind turbine farms that generate electricity all year round. Cookhouse is able to produce over 140 megawatts from their wind turbine projects.

Hydro-powered electricity plants are another common source of electricity in sub-Saharan Africa. Kariba and Cahora Bassa, both situated on the Zambezi River, are able to produce 1626 and 2075 megawatts of power (respectively) when operating at full capacity. Numerous other hydroelectric power plants are being constructed along rivers throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

Africa has huge potential to pave the way for renewable energy in the world. Sources of clean energy, such as solar, wind and water are abundant in sub-Saharan Africa. Once the cost of production of renewable sources of energy falls, Africa can add much-needed electricity to regional grids to meet the ever-increasing demands.

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Written by Joshua Oates

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