Africa desperately needs electricity for its socio-economic development. Over the last 25 years, demand has grown at an annual average of 3.3%. By 2040, total demand is expected to triple to approximately 1600 TWh.
This demand can certainly be met with the continent’s abundant but currently hugely untapped renewables resources. Northern and Southern Africa are among the sunniest places on earth. Wind speeds are impressively high in East, Northern and Southern Africa. In terms of hydro discharge volume, the Congo River is second only to the Amazon. To unlock this potential, Africa needs to revise its regional master plans that currently favour fossil-fuels despite the enormous advances and cost reductions of renewable technologies.
IRENA identified 4290 renewable energy zones in countries included in the African Clean Energy Corridor (ACEC) , with solar and wind power offering generation potential as much as 7 TW and 2 TW respectively, of which more than 99% are still untapped. Such potential offers an opportunity for the region to integrate renewable energy in its power pools master plans and meet its energy needs.
Current master plans of the Eastern and Southern African power pools foresee the addition of more than 100 GW of new coal-fired capacities by 2040. Unless these plans are revisited and revised with a view on including the regions’ abundant low-cost renewable resources, CO2 emissions will triple from 407 Mt/year in 2016 to 1 200 Mt/year in 2040.
IRENA’s assessment of the future of the ACEC power systems further challenges the need for 100 GW plus of new coal capacities. The deployment of solar photovoltaic (PV) and wind technologies in the identified zones combined with investment in adequate transmission infrastructures can avoid a build-up of coal capacities in a cost-effective and climate compatible manner. Moreover, the implementation of new solar PV and wind projects together with hydropower provides the bulk of additional generating capacities to meet ACEC future demand at a low cost, eliminating the need to construct new coal power plants.
The assessment, explored in IRENA’s recently released Planning and Prospects for Renewable Power: Eastern and Southern Africa, highlights the opportunity for Southern and Eastern Africa to take advantage of the identified renewables potential and the obvious cost benefit it brings. Updating their power pool master plans can bring ACEC countries towards the energy transitions pathway with great pace.