How East African States are leading the Renewable Energy Revolution in Africa

According to UNICEF, in the next 35 years, 1.8 billion babies will be born in Africa. The population will double in size, and the number of kids under 18 will reach a billion. That’s a lot of energy demand that only sensible investment in alternative energy can help meet this demand for electrification, energy for transportation, modern cooking solutions, and modern technology.

Camels walk along the road near turbines at Ashegoda wind farm in Ethiopia's northern Tigray region

Camels walk along the road near turbines at Ashegoda wind farm in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region

Fortunately, the East Africa countries seem to have stepped up and are moving ahead of the other regions. East Africa is now the fastest-growing economic zone in sub-Saharan Africa, and among the fastest economically growing regions in the world. According to REN21, in 2015 the region saw 139.8 million USD of capital raised by off-grid solar companies, representing approximately 50% of all off-grid investment made worldwide (276 million USD). In the on-grid market, renewable electricity made up 65% of the EAC region’s total installed, grid-connected power generating capacity in 2015. This is significantly higher than other parts of sub-Saharan Africa where currently it stands at 28.6% and 23.5% in the ECOWAS and SADC regions respectively.

There are several factors when looking at the rapid renewable growth in the region. While the rapid decline in global prices for PV equipment and vast potential of renewable energy sources have all contributed, favorable government policies and innovative business models have been the major factors in the region’s spectacular market growth. For example, Ethiopia was among the most daring signatories to the Paris Agreement on climate change, committing to cut carbon emissions by 64% by 2030. The government has plowed billions of dollars into hydropower megaprojects such as the Grand Renaissance Dam — which will be the largest dam in Africa — and the freshly-inaugurated Gibe III Dam. Ethiopia inaugurated one of the continent’s largest wind farms in 2013 — the $290 million, 120-megawatt (MW) Ashedoga plant. This was followed by the even larger 153 MW Adama II facility in 2015. This picture is set to change with the government’s second “Growth and Transformation Plan,” which will see total output pass 17,000 MW by 2020 and a vastly increased share from the air.

Over in Kenya, for the past 15 years, Kenya’s geothermal output has rapidly increased, from 45 to 533 megawatts, accounting for around half of the power on the National Grid, and the proportion continues to increase. A fifth major power plant is being added to the Olkaria field at the cost of $408 million, through a loan from Japan, which will be fully operational by 2018. Meanwhile, the Lake Turkana Wind Power (LTWP) project is both the largest single wind power project in Africa and the largest single private investment in Kenya’s history. The project is comprising of 365 wind turbines, is set to generate up to 310MW of power when it comes online towards the end of 2017, contributing 15–20% of Kenya’s energy needs.

Rwanda has the first utility-scale, grid-connected, commercial solar field in East Africa that has increased Rwanda’s generation capacity by 6%. In 2015, Tanzania launched its One Million Solar Homes initiative to provide the sun’s power to one million properties by 2017 and early this year; the government banned the use of plastic bags.

Looking at the rapid clean energy growth in the region, it’s safe to say that the region doesn’t only see alternative energy as means to reduce carbon emissions, it’s a necessity for survival. With more regional integration and access to market for wider dissemination of clean and efficient energy technologies and services, the benefits and new economic opportunities for clean technology could be enormous that are key in supporting economic growth and jobs creation in the region.

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Franklyn Kanyako

Ph.D. Student Industrial Engineering, UMass Amherst, working on environmental decision-making, uncertainty in climate policies. Former International Renewable Energy Agency(IRENA) Scholar and United Nations Secretary General's Climate Change Support Team Intern.

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