Solar, the “sleeping lion” in Africa

22-10-2015, Cape Town, South Africa

With the vast majority of its population still energy poor, Africa is uniquely placed to leapfrog fossil fuel dependence and exploit its abundant natural resources in the form of sunlight, hydropower and wind. WWF and REEEP co-hosted a side event at the South African International Renewable Energy Conference (SAIREC) in Cape Town to discuss sustainable ways forward for Africa to bring modern energy to its people while minimizing the impacts on climate and environment.



A technician fits a solar panel on a corrugated rooftop. © Tom Gilks

A REN21 status report on the SADC region, released at SAIREC, shows that the use of fossil fuels in SADC member states, compared to traditional biomass, is still relatively small. For instance, in Mozambique, fossil fuel accounts for only 9,5 per cent of final energy consumption and 8,8 per cent in Zambia.

But this is due to under-development – and so raises the question as to whether the continent, poised for exponential development, will seize the opportunities provided by technological advances in renewable energy or follow the path of a country like South Africa where 87 per cent of its energy mix comes from fossil fuels, in particular coal.

Currently, renewable energy accounts for only 5 per cent of electricity generation, and of this around 45 per cent is hydro. This indicates there is huge untapped potential for large-scale renewable energy projects as well as off-the-grid systems to lift the rural poor out of energy poverty.

No surprise then that the International Energy Agency projects renewable energy in Africa to increase to 41 per cent of electricity generation by 2040, even while many African governments still seem determined to exploit fossil fuel reserves.

This was the backdrop to a discussion at a SAIREC side event, hosted by WWF and REEEP. Moderator Bruce Haase of Speaking Sustainability posed the question: How did the panelists see the road ahead for renewables in Africa and what were the obstacles?

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