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Lighting up the future: scaling up sustainable electrification for Africa

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By Roberto Vigotti

· 3 min read

In the vast and diverse landscape of Africa, a remarkable transformation is unfolding. The continent finds itself at a pivotal crossroads, where the imperatives of decarbonization align seamlessly with the pursuit of sustainable development. The solution to this intricate challenge lies in the swift deployment of renewable energy technologies. It's not merely a choice; it's an urgent commitment that demands the collective engagement of governments, industries, and communities.

As we embark on this ambitious renewable energy revolution, considering the innovation spurred by the parallel digitalization of infrastructures, it becomes evident that the foremost opportunity—one that promises both economic growth and decarbonization—lies in scaling up Africa’s sustainable electrification. Clean energy technologies have proven to be competitive, cost-effective, resilient, and socially and economically beneficial. In 2023, we anticipate adding over 500 gigawatts of renewable generation capacity, with renewables poised to contribute a substantial 80% of new power capacity by 2030, and solar energy taking the lead at approximately 50%.

However, a significant obstacle to accelerating the deployment of Renewable Energy (RE) in Africa is the lack of investment. Astonishingly, despite Africa's 17% share of the world's population, it has received only 2% of global investment in RE over the past decade. This disparity doesn't result from the high cost of RE technologies but rather from the perceived investment risk in Africa, which dissuades potential investors.

To overcome this challenge, the transition to green energy requires a multifaceted approach, including innovative de-risking strategies, public-private partnerships, regulatory framework enhancements, and international collaboration. A critical initial step involves increasing awareness among the public and institutional stakeholders. Providing accurate and consistent information is crucial for well-informed decision-making. Strengthening policies and regulations governing renewable energy investments and improving infrastructure are also vital steps. These endeavors will not only mitigate the risks associated with investments but also bridge the financing gap facing the renewable energy industry in Africa. Therefore, enhancing policy and regulatory frameworks stands as a critical aspect of expediting RE deployment in Africa.

Another way to drive sustainable energy solutions in Africa is by optimizing electrification plans, recognizing electrification as a long-term investment and a necessity for economic transformation. Addressing demand constraints is crucial, as is prioritizing the productive use of electricity to increase household income, ensure the financial viability of utilities, and guarantee reliable access. Furthermore, we must collaborate across sectors and with other industries to amplify the economic impact of electrification. Smart planning, technology adoption, and partnerships are the keys to success in this endeavor. To realize this vision, it becomes imperative to reevaluate government strategies and concentrate our efforts on the formulation of a meticulously crafted national electrification plan, serving as a blueprint for addressing institutional, technical, and financial aspects.

In conclusion, the path to electrification in Africa is a formidable journey, but one filled with immense promise and potential. It's a voyage that beckons unity, innovation, and unwavering commitment from us all. No one else can embark on this transformative journey on behalf of Africa, and there's no better place and time than right here and now. At RES4Africa, we've already set forth on this inspiring journey, and we invite you to join us in shaping a brighter, sustainable energy future for Africa, together.

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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