The past five years have been remarkable for Africa’s renewable energy sector. Perception is changing. Adoption increasing. Commitments are driving action.
Recently, access to finance, solar power mini-grid deployments and more government involvement have been in focus. These are expressly unlocking opportunities for millions of Africans without access to electricity.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development International Energy Agency estimated that nearly 600 million Africans have no access to power. That’s about 48% of the continent’s population of 1.2 billion.
Africa’s population is rising. Her economy is growing. And the advancement of new and renewable energy sources holds the key to unlock even more opportunities for many.
Here are three trends to keep an eye on as the renewable energy momentum gains more traction.
#1 Mainstream Acceptance
There has been a consistent increase in renewable energy awareness. Various outreach programmes, engagement initiatives and installation projects have helped improve perception. Renewable energy consumers are experiencing its many benefits first hand.
Today, renewable energy technologies like solar, wind and geothermal power have gradually moved from the category of theoretically ideal power solutions. In towns and cities, they are now viewed as practical alternatives to fuel-powered generators. Kerosene lamps are also being relegated in villages and remote settlements as some dwellers opt for solar power. The fact that renewables offer cleaner power is also an additional selling point.
On the larger scale, utility companies in Africa have also started to go for renewables.
This level of cognizance is developing into mainstream acceptance with large utility organizations and national power generation companies strategically including renewable energy sources to their generation portfolios.
Earlier this month, Kenya Power signed a 20-year agreement to purchase power from the 52MWp Malindi Solar project in Malindi, Kenya to boost and diversify its power sources.
South Africa, Zambia, Nigeria, Senegal and Kenya are some of the most competitive markets as Power Purchase Agreements with utility-scale Independent Power Producers are rife.
#2 Jobs, Jobs, Jobs
The rising adoption of renewable energy is creating jobs. This is one of the many impactful outcomes of the evolving face of energy access in Africa. Unskilled, skilled and specialised professional jobs are increasing in demand improving the standard of living of indigenous workers. This trend is also noteworthy particularly because it is disproportional to other industries within the energy sector.
Globally, there are over 10 million people working in the renewable energy sector. The IRENA 2018 Jobs Review reveals that only about 76,000 of these workers are based in Africa, 25% more than there were in 2016.
With the geometric increase in access to finance, investor funding, and government participation, a proportional growth in renewable energy jobs, particularly in solar off-grid applications is certain.
However, this is not an alienated event. It is a global trend and Africa is in the middle of it all; well positioned to reap bountifully from the harvest from the sun and other renewable energy sources.
#3 Off Grid Innovation- The Leapfrog
This one is a classic case of “déjà vu”. It happened in Africa’s telecoms sector. Now it is happening in the power sector.
Conventional power grids are centralized. They are built on generation, transmission, distribution and supply power networks. In Africa, these have proven to be complex and expensive to operate and maintain due to poor funding and technical incapacities.
With decentralized power systems, millions of African households not connected to the conventional power grids have the opportunity to obtain their power from less complex and relatively inexpensive power systems provided by renewable energy sources.
Off-grid biomass, wind and solar power systems generate power close to the location where they are used. As a result, power transportation costs and electrical losses are significantly reduced.
Decentralized power systems will provide most power deprived communities with their first taste of power. Globally, thousands of off-grid power installations have already delivered this. Certainly, this view underpins the effectiveness of renewable energy and its crucial role in bringing energy poverty to an end.