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Energy Transition in Africa Still Problematic

The energy transition in Africa continues to be slow. And the assumption that the developing continent could skip fossil energy production in favour of renewables is not coming true either. This is now prompting the UN to appeal to the solidarity of the international community.

The potential for renewable energy in Africa is infinite: View of Mount Kilimanjaro (Image: Pixabay)The potential for renewable energy in Africa is infinite: View of Mount Kilimanjaro (Image: Pixabay)

A new study by Oxford University shows that the energy transition in Africa is progressing only slowly - even though the continent's electricity demand will double within the next ten years. Fossil energy generation will be the main focus, thus jeopardising the achievement of climate protection goals.

This is the conclusion reached by the researchers after they used a modern method to analyse the pipeline of more than 2,500 currently planned power plants and their chances of successful commissioning. It turns out that non-hydro renewables are still likely to account for less than 10 per cent of Africa's electricity generation in 2030, with this share varying by region.

"Africa’s electricity demand is set to increase significantly as the continent strives to industrialise and improve the wellbeing of its people, which offers an opportunity to power this economic development through renewables," says Galina Alova, study lead author and researcher at the Oxford Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment.

Experts had previously assumed that the continent would be able to use its vast renewable energy resources and rapidly falling clean technology prices to switch as completely as possible to renewable energy by 2030. But the new analysis shows that this will not happen. Instead, fossil fuels will account for two-thirds of Africa's total electricity generation in 2030. Another 18 percent will come from hydropower plants, which is problematic due to climate change and the accompanying water scarcity.

Sun and wind are abundant. Nevertheless, electricity from fossil sources is kept to be used in Africa (Image: Pixabay)

It's a problem that has the UN up in arms. Building a global coalition for carbon neutrality by mid-century will be the UN's "central objective", Secretary-General António Guterres announced at a virtual COP26 meeting on 'Clean Power Transition' this week. “All countries need credible mid-term goals and plans that are aligned with this objective”, Guterres said. “To achieve net zero emissions by 2050, we need an urgent transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy”. 

Referring to the 789 million people in the developing world who still don't have access to electricity - three-quarters of whom live in sub-Saharan Africa - he spoke of  “both an injustice and an impediment to sustainable development”. 

Guterres called on the industrialised nations to make a “strong commitment from all governments” to advance the energy transition. "We need to see adequate international support so African economies and other developing countries’ economies can leapfrog polluting development and transition to a clean, sustainable energy pathway”, he added. 

Against this backdrop, he reiterated his call on developed nations to fulfil their annual pledge of $100 billion to support climate mitigation and adaptation in developing countries. This, he said, is a "moral imperative". For despite enormous sums of money allocated for the COVID-19 recovery and various stimulus measures, " sustainable investments are still not being prioritized".

Yet the way is so simple: "We have the tools. Let's unlock them with political will!"

Katrin Radtke
energy transition, Africa, UN, developing countries, electricity, sustainability, governments, study, University of Oxford, community, renewable energy, fossil

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