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Catalyzing East Africa's renewable revolution: overcoming challenges for a sustainable and prosperous future

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By Roberto Vigotti

· 3 min read

Renewable energy stands as the beacon for a sustainable and environmentally conscious future, and this conviction is well-founded. As nations worldwide grapple with the looming threat of climate change, a global shift towards clean and sustainable energy sources is underway. However, for the East Africa region, this journey toward renewable energy presents formidable challenges.

Access to modern energy services remains a pressing issue in East Africa, where in  2020, an estimated 182 million people across the region still lacked access to electricity, with East Africa's electricity access standing at approximately 46%, while clean cooking accessibility remained as low as 7% by the end of 2019. The repercussions extend beyond individual lives, impacting entire communities and stifling economic growth and development.

Within the intricate dynamics of the global energy landscape, models heavily reliant on revenue from oil resources find themselves at a crossroads, where the assurance of stable future revenues becomes increasingly uncertain. The region's dependence on fossil fuels for energy generation exposes it to the unpredictable undulations of global oil prices, creating an environment of volatility in energy costs. In the realm of policymaking, leaders face a momentous decision — whether to strategically leverage existing fossil fuel reserves for accelerated development while navigating the imperative to mitigate carbon emissions in response to urgent environmental concerns. Fortunately, a transformative juncture is on the horizon as the global decline in renewable energy technology costs opens new avenues. For instance, the cost of installing solar power has impressively plummeted by 77% in the past decade, rendering it a more financially viable option for East African nations. This shift holds the potential to enhance energy security, reduce the carbon footprint, and improve access to essential services such as education and healthcare.

In the face of numerous challenges, East Africa has managed to achieve significant milestones in the adoption of renewable energy. Notable success stories, such as the Off-Grid Solar project in Rwanda, which successfully electrified over 100,000 households, and Lake Turkana Wind Power in Kenya, Africa's largest wind farm, generating an impressive 310 MW, underscore the region's vast potential.

In RES4Africa Foundation’s latest study, Connecting the Dots, A Challenging Transition: Exploring East Africa’s Last 10 Years of Renewable Energy, conducted in collaboration with Enel Green Power, an in-depth analysis identifies hindrances obstructing a rapid and consistent growth of renewable energy in the area. The East African region can leverage cross-border collaboration to maximize the benefits of a just energy transition, as the study highlights the importance of regional integration and cooperation in order to create an enabling environment for the deployment of renewable energy. The study estimates that the region possesses significant renewable energy potential, the prospects extend to hydropower, geothermal, and wind energy, offering reliable and sustainable sources of electricity.

Transitioning towards sustainable energy generation in East Africa is merely the initial stride. By implementing essential regional market and infrastructure reforms, aligning with strategic industrial policies, and embracing innovative advancements, East Africa has the potential to emerge as a global leader in renewable energy. Such leadership will not only illuminate the region's path but will also contribute to a brighter and greener future for the entire continent, fostering wide-ranging beneficial outcomes.

illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

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About the author

Roberto Vigotti is the Secretary General of RES4Africa Foundation, a European think tank gathering 34 stakeholders from the clean energy value chain to accelerate Africa’s RE transition. Previously, he spent 35 years in Enel Power R&D Division and served for 12 years as the chair of the Renewable Working Party of the IEA

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