Africa has huge renewable energy potential

Renewable energy

Africa has an enormous potential for renewable energy.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

What you need to know:

  • With smart gadgets and smart equipment, the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, big data analytics and so on, the future is here.
  • Obviously, Kenya Power’s monopoly will be a thing of the past when the country gets to this stage.

There was a time when a Kenya Power and Lighting Company (now Kenya Power) employee would come to our houses, probably dodge the dog, access the electricity meter, and read the number of kilowatt-hours we had consumed since his last visit. Such meter readings conducted across the country would then be typed into an Excel file and later printed as electricity bills that were be sent to each consumer, who would then go to the bank or KPLC offices to pay or risk a visit from the disconnection team. 

Today, most customers have “smart meters”. These can record our electricity consumption and automatically as well as wirelessly send the information to the utility’s online system, where you can also log in and pay. It can update consumption every 30 seconds. So, instead of one reading per month, Kenya Power has the capacity to “read” our consumption 86,400 times in a month. 

This opens up an amazing opportunity for the utility to help customers to manage their consumption patterns and save money. For example, why not programme the washing machine to do the laundry after 10pm when the electricity costs less? But this is only a small part of the story. 

With smart gadgets and smart equipment, the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, big data analytics and so on, the future is here. In Europe and America, for instance, an application will help you to shift from one electricity provider to another, depending on the price and power quality.

Obviously, Kenya Power’s monopoly will be a thing of the past when the country gets to this stage. The important thing for Kenya is to attain Sustainable Development Goal Seven: Universal access to affordable and clean energy. Then, business will be allowed to flourish. Today, because Africa has more than 500 million people without access to electricity, the continent lags behind. 

Consider this: the combined Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of all 54 African countries is $2.6 trillion. The GDP of France alone, with its 66 million people, is $2.7 trillion. Do we really realise the potential of this continent? 

Greener solutions

The best news is that Africa has an enormous potential for renewable energy. While Europe had barely reached 20 per cent renewable energy generation by 2020, Kenya is proudly producing more than 80 per cent of its electricity from renewable energy sources such as geothermal, hydro, wind and solar.

The government has already informed the independent power producers that no power purchase agreement will be renewed as Kenya plans to be 100 per cent renewable by 2030 with a green bio-circular economy, depending on the speed with which the Power Act 2019’s policies can be implemented. 

Another interesting aspect is that we have reached the so called “grid parity”, which means that today in Kenya, one can install a solar system whose electricity is cheaper than what the power utility is charging. Obviously, it requires upfront investment, and it does not make sense to take a loan to implement it in your house, but for commercial and industrial purpose, the cost is worth it. 

Some cement factories, tea firms and hotels have gone this way. Even Strathmore University took this route seven years ago. Over and above the financial gains from this move, there is positive marketing by going green. The university uses the system to train engineers and technicians on how to design, install and maintain such systems — with more than 3,000 professionals trained over the last six years. 

The last 10 years have seen significant shifts and foreign direct investment, especially from Europe, flowing into developing countries with attractive renewable energy options. Renewable Energy Solutions for Africa Foundation (RES4Africa) — an organisation that acts as a bridge between Europe and Africa and works in support of the continent’s energy transition to achieve SDG7 — suggests that as Africa’s leaders head to the 26th session of the Conference of Parties (COP26) in Glasgow, it is paramount that they align their green ambitions through a robust programme to de-risk investment for all energy, including infrastructure and grids. 

Long-term political commitment by African governments, and translating commitments into action, should be prioritised for effective investor partnerships. Plus, if well planned and considered, greener solutions are a clean transition that has demonstrated clear potential to employ Africa’s energetic youth and bring down unemployment while stirring the continent’s industrialisation. 

In 2022, COP27 will be hosted by Africa and investors will be considering putting their funds in a continent that is young, well-trained and sitting on an enormous renewable energy potential. Just think of the combination of affordable solar and wind systems, and storage to support our industries. 

Prof Da Silva is Deputy Vice Chancellor, Research and Innovation, at Strathmore University and Director of the Strathmore Energy Research Centre.

For more similar content, read the next edition of our Climate Action pull-out on October 31 and every last Sunday of the month