East Africa’s green energy goals pose challenges before solutions

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Collectively, East African nations have some of the most ambitious green energy goals in the world. Like many parts of the “developing” world, it makes little sense for Africa to invest further in non-renewable power. The key to prosperity for African nations lies in sustainable development and it’s as much about economics and practicality as it is the threat of climate change, which is already contributing to major droughts across East Africa.

In many ways, though, East Africa is in a strong position to become the first major green energy success story. Most of the key ingredients are already there. The region certainly has the natural resources to make it happen and economic development is still going strong. East Africa won’t be going it alone either; it’s one of the most attractive regions in the world for international investment in renewable energy and related technologies.

Perhaps, most importantly, East Africa has as much incentive to get the most from green energy as anywhere else in the world. The environmental factors alone suggest one resource in short supply is time, meaning East African nations need to find answers to a number of green energy challenges, sooner rather than later.

 

The financial challenges

The obvious challenge that comes to mind in East Africa’s green energy ambitions is the financial one. The region’s economies, on the whole, are developing fast and overseas investment is strong, but the funds are still falling short. It’s not only a question of quantity either but where those funds are being channelled. Aside from being insufficient, very little of the investment Africa receives for green energy goes to off-grid renewables, which are vital for powering the more remote parts of countries.

The good news is that progress is being made, even if it’s not at the rate it needs to be for Africa to meet its 2030 targets. This progress is breeding new opportunities, however, and this comes with hope that investment will increase as the notion of green energy opportunities in Africa becomes more appealing.

There are internal financial challenges facing many East African nations, too, caused by drought, insecurity, corruption and a variety of other factors.

 

The demand and supply challenge

Demand is rapidly outpacing the supply of energy in many African nations. This is especially true in the more remote parts of countries – including Kenya, which is seen as East Africa’s leader in green energy development.

Half of Africa’s population lives without access to electricity and the only alternative for most people is to burn kerosene, wood or other fuels that contribute to a wide range of health and environmental issues. These are the people neglected by the majority of funds that aren’t invested into off-grid systems to power land outside the major cities.

The thing is, the current crop of mega projects are falling short of the demand in these cities, which leaves a dark question mark hanging over the more remote parts of Africa.

 

The mega project vs off-grid approach

One question East Africa hasn’t managed to answer yet is how it should develop its green energy infrastructure. As things stand, there are two accepted approaches: building large, centralised mega projects that power huge chunks of a country and off-grid solutions that power properties on a more local or individual basis.

The problem is African nations need both approaches to realistically hit their green energy targets. Mega projects are ideal for Africa’s expanding major cities but they won’t reach the more remote part of countries where people need localised energy solutions.

Unfortunately, it’s the mega projects that attract international investment while the off-grid alternatives are overlooked. However, there’s reason for optimism in this regard, too. The cost of off-grid renewables has plummeted by over 80 percent since 2010, which is changing the landscape in green energy development.

Finally, off-grid solutions look like a real alternative to expensive and time-consuming grid expansions. Or at least they would be, perhaps, if the investment was there to fully develop Africa’s potential and demand for such systems.

 

Featured image: By Jürgen from Sandesneben, Germany – Flickr, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1372121

 

About Aaron Brooks

Aaron Brooks is a UK journalist who wants to cut out the international agendas in news. Spending his early years in both England and Northern Ireland he saw the difference between reality and media coverage at an early age. After graduating from the University of Chester with a BA in journalism, his travels revealed just how large the gap between news and the real world can be. As Editor-in-Chief at East Africa Monitor, it’s his job to provide a balanced view of what’s going on in the region for English-speaking audiences.