How sub-Saharan Africa can work towards sustainable energy


posted on: July 24th, 2018


The potential for renewable energy in sub-Saharan Africa is enormous. The region has abundant clean power resources. Solar energy alone could provide more than half of the region’s energy needs. Not only will the expansion of renewable energy production create millions of jobs, but it could also reduce the CO2 emissions of by 27%. A sustainable energy future is more than possible. How can it be achieved?


Currently, sub-Saharan Africa is very dependent on fossil fuels, including reserves of coal, oil, and gas, for most of its energy. The energy sector is built around producing electricity from these fossil fuels. As a result, an entire industry will have to be transformed in order for renewable energy sources to be made a priority. The good news is that this switch to renewable energy sources would create up to 2.5 million jobs across the continent.

Coal is becoming more expensive in sub-Saharan Africa. This makes it likely that less and less electricity will be produced from burning coal. However, sustainable sources of energy (like solar and wind) are not likely to be the first options to replace coal. Instead, natural gas will probably become a more and more popular source of energy in the region. This is because many underground reserves of natural gas have recently been discovered across sub-Saharan Africa. It is quick and simple to produce electricity from burning natural gas. However, like coal, it contributes to climate change, and it will also run out at some point in the future.


The good news is that there are many sustainable alternatives. Solar power and hydropower have enormous potential. For example, when fully operational, the Grand Inga Dam in the Democratic Republic of Congo could produce 40,000 megawatts of electricity. That is more than a third of all electricity produced in Africa today.

Other renewable energy sources like wind are likely to remain limited, but there is still room for growth. Wind power could increase in coastal East-African countries, where the winds are highest. For example, Sudan could produce 90% of its energy needs from wind power alone.


For sustainable energy sources to grow, there are many things governments can do. The most important thing is regulation. Once a government has made clear laws and guidelines concerning the production of renewable energy, companies and developers are more likely to invest money in the industry. If there is clear regulation, then everyone can be confident in doing business with each other. Proving this point, one recent study has found that 88% of renewable energy development has taken place in countries with strong regulation.

Encouraging the trade of electricity between sub-Saharan African countries could also be beneficial. This allows wide regions to create ‘power pools’, which means that they can distribute power where it is most needed. Selling power also brings more money into the renewable energy industry. As a result, development and growth will be encouraged.

If government puts these initiatives in place, the future of sustainable energy in sub-Saharan Africa’s could be full of promise.


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