According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and backed by statistics from the World Bank, Africa’s electrification rate as of 2020 sat at 55%. As the continent’s economies continue to expand, IRENA suggests that renewable energy in African countries will be instrumental in meeting growing demand.
Potential for Renewable Energy in African Countries
From country to country, the story remains the same though the percentages shift around slightly. In Ghana, for example, where the electrification rate is up to 87% in urban areas, there still remains a 10% demand growth rate year on year putting pressure on infrastructure.
In rural areas, where the electrification rate is lower at 74%, Ghana’s former minister of power Kwabena Donkor expressed the government’s goal to implement small-scale renewable projects aimed at improving productivity and reducing poverty under the Sustainable Energy for All Action Plan. Several such plans are in place for numerous countries on the continent that promise to accelerate the development of renewable energy in Africa.
Across the continent, energy demand grows at more than twice the global average, and renewables seem to be a natural next step for developing economies. Over the past few decades, researchers have explored potential sites for solar, wind and hydropower plants in Ghana and many other African countries. Though some stakeholders and institutions need to ramp up their activity to meet fast-approaching electrification targets, there is visible interest and investment.
Renewable Energy in Mauritania
Though Mauritania has recovered well from the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the World Bank’s April 23 Macro Poverty Outlook report for the country, the recent war in Ukraine has caused major disruptions. The report cites Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as the cause of increasing food and energy costs as well as growing external debt.
Projections indicate a potential poverty increase to 28.8% by 2023 from 26.2% in 2022. Though the World Bank expects positive medium-term GDP growth, largely due to a joint oil and gas project in conjunction with the BP oil company and neighboring Senegal, there is real concern that volatile international markets for those commodities could render growth equally so.
Looking beyond current setbacks, renewable energy stands to transform Mauritania into one of Africa’s top economies. The AMAN project, a $40 billion renewable energy project in partnership with Australia’s CWP Global, will likely produce 110 TWh of electricity between solar and wind plants as well as 1.7 million tonnes per anum of green hydrogen or 10 million tonnes per annum of green ammonia for local use and export. In a statement, CWP cited estimates that the project could potentially increase Mauritania’s GDP by between 40% and 50% by 2030 and reduce unemployment across the country by about 33% by 2035.
Renewable Energy in Tanzania
A prolonged drought in 2022 led Tanzania’s government to begin rationing electricity in response to a drop in hydropower production. Despite its installed capacity of 1600 MW, the country faced a 300 to 350 MW shortage, according to Tanzania Electric Supply Company Limited managing director Maharage Chande, in an article by Voice of America.
A reliable supply of energy has been crucial in reducing Tanzania’s poverty rate ($2.15 per person per day) from 84% in 2000 to 45% in 2018. Hydropower accounts for close to half of Tanzania’s energy mix at about 45%, a number that will grow with the completion of the Julius Nyerere hydroelectric dam. When the dam reaches completion, Tanzania’s energy output could more than double from about 1,600 MW to about 3,700 MW. Projections on electricity demand, however, indicate a fourfold increase by 2025 to about 4,000 MW.
While hydropower is promising and accounts for a large portion of Tanzania’s energy mix, the East African country is in a strong position for solar power. Tanzania receives 2,800 to 3,500 hours of sunshine per year, making it a prime candidate for developing grid-connected solar power. Off-grid solar power currently powers Tanzanian schools, hospitals, health centers and households.
Renewable Energy in Senegal
According to the World Food Programme (WFP), more than a third of Senegal’s population of 17 million lives in poverty while 75% of families endure chronic conditions of poverty. Though more than 95% of urban Senegal is estimated to be connected to the grid, access to electricity in rural areas remains limited at a little more than 47% in 2020. Agricultural exports, coming largely out of Senegal’s rural regions, account for about 17% of the nation’s GDP and employ 70% of its workers, according to a 2019 publication.
As recently as January 2023, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen visited the country as part of a trip to expand U.S.-Africa ties and launch a rural electrification initiative that will rely on renewables to bring electricity to 70 villages and 350,000 rural Senegalese people. Senegal is actively interested in a transition to renewable, with President Mackey Sall’s government pursuing universal energy access and 15% renewable energy targets by 2025.
The country’s dependence on agriculture tracks with its eagerness to transition to renewables. As extreme weather conditions continue to worsen agricultural prospects, a green and electrified Senegal could significantly propel the country toward self-sustainability and provide a chance to further expand the economy.
The transition to renewable energy in African countries has the potential to improve the quality of life across Africa while reducing poverty and ensuring sustainability. From Ghana to Mauritania, Tanzania to Senegal, various initiatives and partnerships are paving the way for a renewable energy transition. Despite challenges such as infrastructure pressure, disruptions from external factors and energy shortages, these countries are actively investing in solar, wind and hydropower projects to transform their economies, reduce poverty and increase access to electricity, particularly in rural areas. Overall, the pursuit of renewable energy offers a positive path toward increased energy stability across Africa.
– Nana Yaw Acheampong