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The African energy transition requires urgent answers

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By Roberto Vigotti

· 3 min read

An energy system centred on renewable sources can help resolve many of Africa’s social, economic, health and environmental challenges. A profound energy transition is not only feasible, it is essential for a climate-safe future in which sustainable development requirements are met.

However, Africa has historically been left behind in the global energy transition. In fact, only 2% of global investments in renewable energy in the last two decades were made in Africa, which accounts for less than 3% of global renewables jobs. In Sub-Saharan Africa, more than 50% of the region’s population still lacks access to electricity, according to a report by UNCTAD. Additionally, the whole continent is home to some of the world’s worst-functioning grid systems, which have suffered from decades of neglect and mismanagement. 

Despite these disheartening figures, African countries have a unique abundance of untapped energy potential that grants them a strong starting point for the transformation of the energy sector. Solar energy potential is particularly remarkable, accounting for 40% of the global total, while costs are falling also for hydro and geothermal power, increasingly bringing renewables within reach. Moreover, Africa accounts for 40% of global reserves of key minerals for batteries and hydrogen technologies

The energy transition holds therefore huge promise for Africa and some figures offer a hopeful glimpse into a future where renewable energy not only powers the continent but also propels it towards sustainable and inclusive economic growth. More than 26 GW of renewables-based generation capacity has been added over the past 10 years, mostly in solar energy. Average annual investments in renewable energy grew ten-fold in 2010-2020 compared to the previous ten-year period. Distributed renewable energy solutions are playing a steadily growing role in expanding electricity access in off-grid areas and strengthening supply in already connected areas. Yet, despite the progress seen in the last decade, African economic growth remains insufficient to address structural challenges.

The pressing need to make the case on the realities and benefits that renewables can bring to Africa’s future energy systems and the conditions required for these benefits to materialise were at the centre of A sustainable, prosperous and just energy future in Africa, a side event held on April 24th., during the G7 Planet Week in Turin, Italy. Organised by RES4Africa Foundation in collaboration with GSE and hosted by Intesa Sanpaolo, it served as a pivotal platform to address crucial topics surrounding energy transformation and financing in Africa. Electricity was highlighted as a fundamental enabler of modern societies, indispensable for Africa to find its way in the crucial crossroads where it is standing in the pursuit of sustainable socio-economic development. 

The attendees, representatives from European and African institutions, as well as stakeholders from the private sector, agreed on a number of essential strategies for the transformation of the African energy sector. Crucial factors for Africa, in addition to know-how and technology, were identified in the political and regulatory environment, innovative financing mechanisms to unlock clean energy investments and the need to provide support for future energy leaders. The importance of infrastructure, managing the challenges of energy, water, and food and the convergence of government and private sector interests toward supporting African-led development and growth were focal points of discussion. 

As we look ahead to the G7 Summit, RES4Africa remains committed to driving meaningful change and fostering inclusive development across Africa through sustainable energy solutions. In its role as a bridge between Europe and the African countries, the Foundation contributes to the enormous trust-building efforts that are required between the latter and industrialised economies in preparation for G7 and future COP29. 

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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