Africa’s Energy Transition

Featured image: An employee of the Tanzania Electric Supply Company Limited (TANESCO) at work on a wooden utility pole. ⓒ Peter Ogillo, 2017.


This article will examine the energy transition of Africa. The continent faces the dual problem of energy access and environmental sustainability with relation to its energy policy. Both challenges must be met, both to achieve sustainable economic growth and development for Africans, and for the wellbeing of the planet as a whole. This article will begin by focussing on the reasons why this transition must take place, before discussing policies which will facilitate it successfully.

The article will refer exclusively to electricity generation, and thus when energy is referred to, it is in the context of electricity. However, it is important to note that the general direction of travel with transport and heating is towards electricity. Therefore, the issues surrounding electricity generation also apply directly to these sectors.

1. Introduction

Africa is a continent which is about to explode. The huge population increase which is projected in Africa, along with the increase in per capita incomes as the continent develops, will cause a massive increase in energy demand, and thus pose a significant challenge to Africa’s energy transition. Currently Africa has very low levels of electricity access (only 54% in 2018)[1]. Increasing this to 100% to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 7 (henceforth SDG 7), as in Europe,[2] is essential to the economic development of Africa, but will nonetheless be challenging.

The second implication of the projected rise in energy demand is on the planet. If we are to meet the pledges made at Paris and Glasgow, then Africa’s energy demand must be met mainly by renewable resources. A green transition in Africa will also aide its economic development. Air pollution is estimated to reduce the GDP of the US (the second largest emitter in the world)[3] by 5% through externalities, primarily premature deaths.[4] Add to this the cost of climate change, including reduced agricultural yields and increased incidence of extreme weather, the externalities of pollution, driven mainly by fossil fuels, would hold African economies back, preventing the sustainable growth they need and deserve.

The primary challenge behind all this is money. Given the developed world is seeing its own challenges and having its own hesitations with weening itself off fossil fuels, the notion of achieving this in Africa, a continent with unstable government finances and which is seen in many places as too risky an investment to attract significant foreign financial capital, is bold. However, as described below, this can be achieved.

Africa’s energy transition is one of the great challenges which faces the modern world. Despite this however, the opportunities of this transition are great, both for the people of Africa, the global economy, and the planet. It can be done, but action is required now.

2. Why must Africa’s energy transition be sustainable?

2.1. Development – access

Currently, Africa is the least developed continent in the world, with 33 of the 46 LDCs (as classified by the UN) being in sub-Saharan Africa.[5] Lack of energy access is a key barrier to development in Africa. This is illustrated by examining the areas considered by HDI (the index of development used by the UN): economic growth, healthcare, and education. The IRENA has estimated that power outages reduce African GDP by 2% annually as a result of business disruption and lost profits.[6] Furthermore, without electricity access, people will turn to biomass as their primary source of fuel. In 2018, 45% of African energy demand was met by using biomass in such a way, the majority of which was charcoal and firewood for cooking.[7] The effect of this on health is disastrous, estimated to cause 490,000 premature deaths according to the WHO.[8] Finally, education is improved as, for example, electricity can provide access to the internet – an important resource for education in the modern world. Therefore, it is clear that energy access is crucial to development.

Thus, the energy transition in Africa must include the successful fulfilment of SDG 7. But as Mutiso makes clear, simply providing electricity will not solve the energy poverty which currently plagues Africa. Indeed, 44% of global electricity demand is used in industry.[9] Access must be sufficient such that high power appliances can be used (Tier 5 electricity access), thus allowing for heavy industry and also for higher power appliances in households, further increasing living standards.

The energy transition in Africa will also boost development among African nations by boosting growth. The investment required to make this transition a reality has been put at between USD $45-65 billion per year by 2030, reaching around as high as USD $120 billion by 2050.[10] This will provide an injection into the economy which will stimulate GDP and also create jobs. These jobs may be of particular geographic importance as the majority of the areas as of yet unconnected are rural (472 million of the 548 million who are unconnected[11]), thus the jobs provided by such project may provide rural employment and hence alleviate rural poverty and decline. Jobs will be created by all projects, large (such as the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam which created 12,000 jobs[12]) and small (such as the installation of off grid solar in rural villages). As the IRENA makes clear, ‘the energy sector must be viewed as an integral part of the broader economy’, estimating that for every million USD invested in green technology would create at least 25 jobs, three times the amount that each million invested in fossil fuels does.[13] Given the scale of investment, this could be a significant source of employment. This analysis of course assumes that the jobs created are filled from the domestic labour market and that profits are not repatriated by foreign firms (and thus removing money from the economy). In any case, even if the benefit is slightly reduced, African economies will no doubt see benefits to growth from such investment.

Figure 1. Source: Rhodium Group[14]

A successful energy transition is therefore a vital part of Africa’s development, and this article has only scratched the surface of this link- a link that will only continue to grow stronger as smart technologies develop into an even more crucial aspect of the economy. Hence, the first answer to the question of why we should care about Africa’s energy transition is because it can help to alleviate poverty and improve the lives of millions of people.  

2.2. Climate Change

‘Africa will be the new Asia.’[15] However, the planet cannot bear another China-like ‘economic miracle’ built on the back of fossil fuels. Since 1990, Chinese net greenhouse gas emissions have skyrocketed, and China now emits more than the whole of the OECD combined (Figure 1)[16]. If Africa were to replicate this, the climate consequences would be disastrous.

And yet Africa must develop like China did. China’s ‘economic miracle’, as of April 2022, has raised close to 800 million people out of extreme poverty in the last 40 years.[17] Africa needs a similar phase of industrialisation. However, this must be done in a sustainable way, using renewable, clean energy; both to ensure the health of the planet but also to deliver sustainable economic growth in Africa.

Sustainable growth of energy supply is particularly necessary because demand in Africa is set to soar. This is the result of rising population and per capita consumption. 1.3 billion of the 2 billion people born between 2019 and 2050 are expected to be African.[18] Furthermore, Africa is anticipated to have a population that is 60% urban by 2050, and urbanites typically consume triple the electricity of rural dwellers.[19] Therefore, the IRENA estimates that: ‘consumption [in Africa] from current connections is expected to more than triple by 2040, due to increased purchasing power coupled with improved security of supply.’[20]

Thus, since growth of demand is both inevitable and desirable, the goal must be to decouple economic growth and energy consumption from emissions. Currently, Africa’s GDP elasticity of energy demand (the responsiveness of a change in emissions to a change in GDP) is positive (i.e. as GDP increases, emissions also increase).

The OECD countries have successfully decoupled, with a negative GDP elasticity of energy demand. The OECD position has been achieved partly through its own energy transition, as renewables are becoming an increasingly large share of the energy mix (15% in the EU for example)[21]; but this reduction in emissions has mainly been achieved via deindustrialisation, as heavy industry was offshored to Asia from the 1970s onwards.[22] Whilst this may be somewhat of a tangent from Africa’s energy transition, it raises an important point; namely that Africa’s transition to renewables has to be more rapid and more complete than Europe’s. On a global scale, it does not matter where the emissions come from, just that they are emitted. As labour costs in Asia continue to rise, Africa may increasingly become the home of global manufacturing; thus, it is vitally important that this industrialisation is powered by renewables.

The final argument for Africa’s energy transition to be fuelled by renewables is the local pollution caused by fossil fuels. Some African nations already have experience of this. In Nigeria for instance, the oil industry, as of 2006, had spilled some 1.5 million tonnes of oil into the Niger Delta, seriously harming the livelihoods of local people, particularly fishermen. This incidental pollution is a serious problem which is partly the result of poor regulation of the industry. Whilst it could be remedied, the fledgling nature of government institutions in many African nations makes this difficult, as often vested interests of those in power prevent proper management.

Therefore, in an ideal world this transition must be fuelled by renewables. In practice, a hybrid model will likely be the only practical way forward, given the forecasted increase in energy demand. The truth is however, from the perspective of climate change, that in order to have any hope of not causing great damage to our planet’s climate, the African energy transition cannot occur as it did in Asia, particularly China. Aside from preventing further climate change and prompting development however, the renewable route provides some other exciting opportunities for Africa.

2.3. Further Opportunities

With great technological revolutions also come great opportunities. The Industrial Revolution transformed European countries to world powers. The Second Industrial Revolution did the same for the USA. For Africa, the opportunities offered by the Green Industrial Revolution, should its nations choose to participate, are greater than for most.

In the same way the Middle East has the natural endowment of massive oil reserves (and so too do places in Africa, it should be noted), Africa’s geography has given the continent an endowment of renewable energy potential. It is estimated that the continent has the onshore potential, with existing technology, to cover its projected 2040 energy demand over 1000 times.[23] With the ever-increasing efficiency of renewable energy sources, particularly solar photovoltaic (PV) and wind, this potential could conceivably become even greater. Solar PV, wind, geothermal, hydroelectric and biomass sources all have strong potential in Africa. The challenge is to exploit this opportunity. Should Africa do so, going green will enhance its energy transition and future prospects in two key ways.

First, the renewable route will allow Africa to more effectively counter the challenges thrown up by climate change. The changing climate in Africa means that there is an increasing need for energy intensive products, most notably air conditioning.

Climate change is also harming agriculture, and a renewable energy transition in Africa could solve some of those problems. Current agricultural practices are pretty environmentally unfriendly. Not only are agricultural practices carbon intensive, but the monoculture of modern agriculture also releases lots of carbon from the soil[24]; deforestation to make way for crops both releases carbon and reduces the level of natural sequestration globally (this is particularly significant in the Amazon); the use of pesticides and fertilisers wrecks biodiversity; and the industry (especially in semi desert areas, which a large portion of Africa is) uses a lot of water (70% of fresh water is used in agriculture globally)[25].

Indoor farming could solve many of these issues. It requires less space as crops can be stacked vertically, thus reducing the need for deforestation; land previously used for agriculture can be rewilded, allowing for more effective carbon sequestration; pesticides are not required, given indoor farming’s controlled nature; and water use is much lower (typically 95% less)[26].

This final point may be particularly important in Africa. Given its warmer climate, many farmers rely on underground aquifers for irrigation. Whilst this certainly works, it is unsustainable, as the USA has demonstrated. Ogallala Aquifer, which lies below the Great Plains, has been used to feed agriculture in that region. However, it is depleting fast, with recent estimates suggesting groundwater levels have fallen by at least 150ft (46m). This is not only unsustainable, but it also has negative environmental consequences, including saltwater intrusion in coastal regions. Given much of Africa’s agriculture will have to be supported by aquifer-fed irrigation, particularly in regions suffering desertification like the Sahel, the idea of indoor farming would be particularly appealing in Africa.

Indoor farming, though environmentally beneficial, is energy intensive; LED lights take the place of the sun, and therefore abundant electricity is essential. A successfully implemented renewable strategy can provide the requisite power, thus keeping the environmental impact low. The obvious issue with indoor farming is that it is still an emerging technology and so very expensive. However, it does present a significant opportunity.

Third, given the potential energy surplus of Africa, economies on the continent can become exporters of energy, which has the potential to be a significant addition to export revenue and thus GDP. This is especially true for North African nations given their proximity to the high-income markets of Europe, who do not have the same renewable energy potential endowment which Africa does, particularly in solar. Thus, via interconnecting cables, surplus energy in Africa may be sold to European economies when the sun is not shining or the wind is not blowing in Europe. Indeed, some African countries have already begun this. Morocco, for instance, has two cables to Spain which export 1,200 GWh annually to Europe. An upscaling of this and replication across Africa could therefore provide a significant opportunity, especially given the current desire to improve energy security via diversification by European nations.[27]

Thus, by going green Africa will be able to unleash its full potential. A fossil fuel transition would certainly still realise some of this potential, as the increase in grid access would doubtless lead to Africa’s emergence on the world stage an economic powerhouse, much like Asia has. However, given new energy-intensive technologies, the challenges posed by climate change, and the continents renewable energy potential, that economic success story could be all the more profound if led by renewable sources.

3. How?

3.1. Challenges

Therefore, a renewable led anergy transition for Africa is desirable. But to end this article hear would be naïve. Most politicians would doubtless jump at the opportunity to flick a magic switch and make a costless transition to renewables. However, unfortunately it is all rather more difficult than that; doubtless many of you reading the “why” section of this article would have been thinking that. Despite the immense challenge, it is possible for Africa’s energy transition to be successful. Some approaches which may help this process will be outlined, namely: grid improvements; investment strategies and sources; and geographical specificity of approach.

3.2. The Grid

The grid is the network on which electricity is transferred from producers to consumers. The two key elements of a successful grid are efficiency and coverage (although this is less important with renewables as discussed below). In many African countries, electricity grids are currently insufficient and need investment to facilitate a successful energy transition. An important point to make clear is that, irrespective of the level of energy production, if the grid is not adequate then the transition will not work. Grid improvements are thus essential.

In Africa the greatest problem pertaining to the grid is that of efficiency, most notably transmission and distribution (T&D) losses. A study found that only four countries on the continent had T&D losses below 10% (a benchmark for high-performing grids), whilst the rest see T&D losses of between 11% and 40%, or, in the Republic of Congo and Central African Republic, over 40%.[28] This is the result of both technical and commercial losses.

The implications of this are significant. The same study estimated the cost of making the necessary upgrades at more than 1% of GDP in five countries (including the Gambia), and over 50% of the fiscal deficit in 11 countries (including the CAR, Ghana, and Cameroon). A lack of efficient energy transfer makes business more costly for energy firms, and so too for all those who rely on their provisions. Furthermore, the damage to profitability in countries with deficient grids makes it difficult for energy firms to finance improvements themselves and makes foreign investment less forthcoming.

Grid efficiency improvements are therefore required to make the energy sector itself more efficient, creating growth in the sector to attract more financial capital and spur further investment to improve delivery systems.

The other reason that improved grid efficiency is essential is specific to renewables. Due to the fluctuation of supply from renewable sources, the grid has to be able to handle high levels of input without power outages and other malfunctions. This same problem is faced around the world. A renewable-led energy transition is only possible with a grid able to handle such fluctuations in input. Thus, grid improvements must meet the specific requirements of renewable supply.

Furthermore, there will be times when not all of the energy supplied by renewable sources will be used, as well as times when there is a deficiency in supply of renewable energy due to climate. This is why storage is necessary. Such capital must be integrated into the grid as the ability to store energy is essential to a renewable-based energy strategy. Currently, two main storage options exist.

The first is electric batteries (predominantly lithium ion (LI), but flow and thermal batteries are also promising). The technology, particularly LI batteries, is improving all the time and prices are falling.[29] LI batteries in electric cars can also be used by the grid as stores of electricity.[30] However, one major downside is the limited supply of lithium. Creating infrastructure requiring lithium may be unsustainable, causing future generations a significant problem.[31] Unfortunately, the possibility of a green energy transition in Africa (or indeed anywhere) that does not use LI batteries in large quantities seems highly unlikely. Therefore, in this case, the great should not be the enemy of the good, and we should proceed with LI batteries until a better alternative becomes available.

The second option is hydrogen. Excess electricity generated by renewables could be used to make hydrogen via electrolysis, which can then be stored and burnt to generate electricity as when it is needed. Morocco is among the African nations considering this.[32] The advantage of hydrogen is that it can be transported in pipelines (just like oil or natural gas today) from where it is created to where it is demanded. Thus, existing infrastructure can be utilised for hydrogen.

Both are promising technologies, though hydrogen technology in particular remains in development. In any case, some kind of electricity storage must be included in African grid improvements. An alternative solution to the oversupply of renewables is to ensure connection between countries, creating clean energy corridors[33], through which excess electricity can be sold. In reality, both storage and energy corridors should be used together to supply energy when and where it is demanded. The integration of smart technology into the grid to improve distribution efficiency is also an important consideration.

The second major issue with grids pertains to access. Improving electricity access via grid expansion is essential to a successful energy transition in Africa. However, it must be noted that electricity does not have to come from a national grid. Given current issues with rural connectivity, along with the rise of renewables, off-grid options are increasingly becoming viable. Grids are indispensable for distribution from a central plant, such as from fossil fuels or nuclear, but when grids cannot be expanded, renewables allow for more local supply. Furthermore, the cost of expanding the network to remote rural areas may mean that it never happens, as the incentive is not large enough. Thus, for many, an off-grid option (particularly solar) may be the only feasible option. Having Tier 1 electricity access via the off-grid route is relatively cost effective and affordable. However, it becomes more challenging financially when meeting high electricity demand, especially given low rural incomes. Thus, government intervention will be required to make this a reality for low-income households.

Alternatively, a compromise approach could be mini-grids[34], where small systems are set up independent of the main grid to serve a rural community. Mini-grids may also open the possibility of using alternative energy sources to off-grid solutions (e.g., micro-nuclear) which are only really feasible at the larger scale of a mini-grid.

Where possible, a national grid remains the optimal solution. The supply of renewables will of course occur vary from one part of a country to another; similarly, demand may peak at different times in different locations. Thus, the ability to transfer energy from a place of high supply to one of high demand is a significant advantage of the national grid, allowing more efficient allocation of energy. The economies of scale should also lead to lower prices for consumers. Thus, off- or mini-grid solutions should only be used where the extension of the grid is not feasible.

Therefore, a key element of the “how” question relates to grid improvements and modernisation. A failing grid will mean that the transition fails too, even if the generation of electricity is successful.

3.3. Funding

As discusses above, Africa’s energy transition will not be cheap. To facilitate this transition, USD $45-65 billion per year will need to be invested into the sector by 2030, with that value roughly doubling by 2050. The obvious question is that of funding.

First, unlike developed nations, the predominant source of finance cannot be from government taxation and borrowing. Currently, tax bases in most African economies are too small to raise enough revenue, and collection is too inefficient: a study found that the average tax revenue to GDP ratio for the 30 African countries studied was 16.6%, in comparison to the OECD average of 33.8%, while OECD countries also have higher GDP.

Borrowing is too expensive to fund the transition either. 10-year government bond yields in Africa are commonly over 10% (as of writing: 10.6% in South Africa[35], 14% in Kenya[36] etc.), whereas in developed nations have much lower borrowing rates (even in light of recent economic turmoil, the UK’s rate is around 4%)[37]. Indeed, 31 of the 37 Highly Indebted Poor Countries, as defined by the World Bank, are in Africa.[38] Thus, the current funding capacity of African governments is limited. As African nations develop, government finances will likely improve, but to initiate the transition other funding sources must be found.

The second major source is private sector investment. Taken alone, many African nations again face similar issues. African economies on average have a low domestic supply of loanable funds (primarily due to low incomes and an underdeveloped financial system), which limits the scope for private sector borrowing and thus investment. Furthermore, low per capita incomes limit the ability of private firms in the energy sector to raise financial capital via the selling of stock. Foreign financial capital, in the form of private investors, faces issues too. Africa is still seen as a risky investment location, mainly due to corruption, political uncertainty and poor public infrastructure.[39] Until this changes, investment of the scale required is not likely to be forthcoming.

Therefore, left to market forces or African governments alone, it is unlikely a transition of the scale and type needed will occur – at least in the short term. This is not to be disparaging about the contribution these sources can make, but simply to say that it cannot be done by these sources alone. What is needed to make the difference is multilateral financial institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF.

Aside from the money alone, these two institutions can initiate the transition. By creating an established green energy sector in African countries, the risk of investment for private agents declines and thus private equity should begin to increase. As well as this, the development of the African energy sector will allow firms to reinvest their own profits. Furthermore, other work undertaken by these institutions is tackling corruption[40] and boosting development[41], both of which will allow African government finances to improve (by lowering long term interest rates and widening the tax base). This will mean that investment from African governments themselves should increase as time goes on. The work of these two institutions in this sector has already begun[42], but a scaling up of this effort is needed, as for now they must take the lead.

The primary barrier which has to be overcome to secure funding is that of delayed gratification. The return on investments is not likely to be immediate, and thus it takes an institution not driven purely by profit or constrained by political pressures to instigate change. Furthermore, solar, wind and hydroelectric power require much higher upfront cost than fossil-fuel-based energy production. However, thereafter the costs are lower as input resources are not needed.[43] Thus, multilateral institutions not requiring immediate returns, like the World Bank and IMF, are suited to this type of investment. Governments in Africa and private investors are also key, but they will play a more significant role in the future.

3.4. Geographically Specific Approaches

The final implementation strategy vital for a successful energy transition is geographic specificity. Evidently there is no one-size-fits-all approach, either to energy source or grid issues.

Taking the energy source issue first, clearly different regions have a strategic advantage in some types of energy. Outside fossil fuels, the four main promising renewable types are: solar, wind, hydroelectric, and geothermal.

Whilst biofuels have some potential, the notion that they are carbon neutral is highly questionable, given the destruction of natural capital (and thus release of carbon), the land needed to grow the crops, as well as the emissions involved in producing them (including leaked methane).[44] In order to make biofuel production truly net zero, carbon sequestration is required (either via natural capital or carbon capture and storage). This simply adds difficulties and costs; and given the factor endowment of renewable potential in the other major sources Africa has, a focus on biofuels would be an error, though its partial integration, especially to meet peak demand, may be required. As for nuclear, the set-up costs are equally as substantial as renewables while being unsustainable, even if carbon neutral, and so the same point applies.

If we leave biofuels and nuclear aside, that leaves us with the four mentioned above. Clearly the potential for each type is not uniform, and neither is the distribution. For example, Morocco has large solar and wind potential. Thanks to its location on the edge of the Sahara, Morocco receives plenty of insolation. Its geography also means it has high wind speeds (averaging between 6-11 m/s)[45]. Therefore, Morocco should evidently specialise in these sources. By contrast, East Africa shows greatest potential in hydropower and geothermal. In Ethiopia, hydropower represents the largest contributor to its energy mix at 3,817 MW[46], fed by water from the Ethiopian Highlands there. The Rift Valley, also in East Africa, has given countries like Kenya the opportunity to exploit geothermal power (with an estimated 7-10 GW of potential)[47]. Recognising where a country’s greatest potential lies can help to reap the greatest reward. Energy strategy must be thought of with long-term feasibility in mind, and scalability is an important part of that, especially given the rise in demand that will come in the following decades.

The other point is that a diversified energy mix on the African continent will enhance overall energy security, even if forms of generation are fairly specialised. With interconnected grids, deficits in one form of energy production can be compensated for by wind energy from elsewhere, and vice versa. Thus, in the same way that a national grid can smooth over supply on a national basis, an interconnected continental grid would do the same on an international scale. Energy security could thus be improved.

There is the obvious political implication that African economies could become totally dependent on another, potentially hostile neighbour, for energy. This is where storage again is key. Strategic reserves of power must exist to bolster energy security for when domestic production falls substantially.

Furthermore, the diversification of energy sources can prevent the hegemony of energy that currently exists with fossil fuels. Fossil fuel endowment not only gives certain countries significant power over their dependents, which can be exploited by rogue states (Russia and Europe being a prime example), but also makes the global economy extremely unstable, with the prices of oil and natural gas being such a significant influence on inflation. Evidently, the factor endowments of certain countries will still be greater than others. However, the relative widespread abundance of renewables means the security effects are much less pronounced.

A linked idea is that of baseload and non-baseload. In an energy system, the baseload is the lowest level of energy which is constantly supplied and used; by contrast, non-baseload refers to peak energy demand, such as in the evenings. Here emerges a big problem with renewables: regulation of supply to meet demand. The various technologies that would make this possible are not widely available as of yet, nor fully integrated. Therefore, some level of fossil fuel use in energy production in Africa will be required for the foreseeable future. As the renewable capacity of Africa is increased, this may take on the baseload, meeting the majority of Africa’s energy demand most of the time. But at peak times, or when supply from renewables is unusually low, natural gas, the least polluting fossil fuel, can be used to cover that demand and prevent blackouts. Natural gas will likely be key to ensure a smooth but effective energy transition to renewables in Africa.

The second geographic point mentioned relates to access. Whilst the continental average electricity access is very low (54%), this is not universally the case. Countries like Egypt and Morocco have near 100% electricity access[48], whereas Burkina Faso for instance has an urban access rate of 62% and a rural access rate of less than 1%.[49] Therefore, the investment in grid expansion, mini-grid, and off-grid technology should be focused where it is needed most. This is again why the multi-lateral institutions will have to take the lead, as market forces might favour bolstering established systems rather than delivering even Tier 1 electricity access to rural communities. Specificity of approach for energy access is as important as with renewable energy source selection. The geographies of existing grid systems therefore should dictate investment policy.

4. Conclusions

The challenge of the African energy transition is certainly a daunting one, but it is one that must be undertaken in order to solve so many of the issues faced in Africa, and indeed globally.

Africa cannot develop, raising millions of people out of poverty, without massively expanding electricity access. Households need electricity access to increase their standard of living, improve health and educational outcomes, and allow people fully participate in the economic growth of Africa. Furthermore, with much of the modern economy becoming increasingly reliant on the internet, as well as high power electrical appliances, businesses need Tier 5 electricity access. Not granting this access will waste the potential of Africa. This would be a disaster for not just Africa but the world, as a successful African economy means a more prosperous global economy.

The environment is also dependent on a successful African energy transition. Another continent rising on the back of fossil fuels would be catastrophic. Emissions need to be cut now, and future emissions prevented from happening. Whilst net zero targets should not be a barrier to African development, low emissions are absolutely necessary. Africa especially has a vested interest in this, as many locations in Africa will feel the worst of climate change.

Finally, given the vast renewable potential of Africa, the question becomes not why, but why not? The answer to this is likely the upfront cost of renewables, but as discussed above, this can be overcome by targeted investment led by multilateral organisations. Given the external costs of using fossil fuels instead, renewables will certainly prove to be cheaper in the long term.

Governments and multilateral organisations must play an integral role to ensure that Africa’s energy transition happens quickly, efficiently, and sustainably, and that it benefits more people. That will define a successful energy transition in Africa. This success is within reach.

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[1] KfW Development Bank, Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Internationale Zusammenarbeit, International Renewable Energy Agency (2021), p.23

[2] World Bank (2020)


[4] h Robinson, E (2019)

[5] Essoungou, A (2011)

[6] KfW Development Bank, Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Internationale Zusammenarbeit, International Renewable Energy Agency (2021), p.27

[7] KfW Development Bank, Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Internationale Zusammenarbeit, International Renewable Energy Agency (2021), p.18

[8] Ibid

[9]  TED (2018), 5:35

[10] KfW Development Bank, Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Internationale Zusammenarbeit, International Renewable Energy Agency (2021), p.48

[11] KfW Development Bank, Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Internationale Zusammenarbeit, International Renewable Energy Agency (2021), p.23

[12] Woldetatyos, F (2020)

[13] KfW Development Bank, Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Internationale Zusammenarbeit, International Renewable Energy Agency (2021), p.49

[14] Larsen et al. (2021) ‘China’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions Exceeded the Developed World for the First Time in 2019’ Rhodium Group.

[15] El-Baz, B (2019)

[16] Larsen et al. (2021)

[17] World Bank (2022)

[18] Paice, E (2022)

[19] KfW Development Bank, Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Internationale Zusammenarbeit, International Renewable Energy Agency (2021), p.32

[20] KfW Development Bank, Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Internationale Zusammenarbeit, International Renewable Energy Agency (2021), p.33

[21] OECD (2019)

[22] Helm, D (2020), p.76-77

[23] KfW Development Bank, Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Internationale Zusammenarbeit, International Renewable Energy Agency (2021), p.37

[24] Helm, D (2020), p.168

[25] Khokhar, T (2017)

[26]  iFarm (2020)

[27] Helm, D (2020)

[28] Trimble, C., Kojima, M., Arroyo, I. P., & Mohammadzadeh, F. (2016), p.44

[29] Tony Blair Institute for Global Change (2022), 11:55

[30] KfW Development Bank, Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Internationale Zusammenarbeit, International Renewable Energy Agency (2021), p.55

[31] Shine, I (2022)

[32] KfW Development Bank, Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Internationale Zusammenarbeit, International Renewable Energy Agency (2021), p.43

[33] KfW Development Bank, Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Internationale Zusammenarbeit, International Renewable Energy Agency (2021), p.55

[34] Burrell, L (2021)

[35] Trading Economics (2022) South Africa Government Bond 10Y.

[36] World Government Bonds (2022)

[37] Trading Economics (2022) United Kingdom Government Bond 10Y.

[38] World Bank (2018)

[39] Dlamini, B (2017)

[40] World Bank (2021) Combating Corruption.

[41] Ghosh, A., Anna, P (2021)

[42] World Bank (2021) World Bank Group Provides $465 Million to Expand Energy Access and Renewable Energy Integration in West Africa.

[43] Schwerhoff, G.,  Sy, M (2020)

[44] Helm, D (2020), p.202-203

[45] Zafar, S (2022)

[46] KfW Development Bank, Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Internationale Zusammenarbeit, International Renewable Energy Agency (2021), p. 93

[47] Renewable Energy Portal

[48] KfW Development Bank, Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Internationale Zusammenarbeit, International Renewable Energy Agency (2021), p.92 and p.99

[49] KfW Development Bank, Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Internationale Zusammenarbeit, International Renewable Energy Agency (2021), p.90