Africa, which has for some time now carried the tag of ‘promising‘ for non hydro renewable energy, might yet be the continent with the lowest share of non hydro renewable energy by 2030. Even as some countries within the continent will break away from the rest to have a much more robust contribution from solar into their energy mix.
These are the predictions from a study conducted at the University of Oxford, which used a state-of-the art machine-learning technique to analyse over 2,500 currently-planned power plants and their chances of being successfully commissioned around the continent. Published in Nature Energy, the findings of the study ironically do not mention the fact that China, which has led the renewable push in so many parts of the world, is actually going to carry the blame for the high fossil fuel generation in Africa, where it has been establishing coal powered power plants merrily, to push its own trade ties and economic role in the continent.
For organisations like the International Solar Alliance (ISA), or even IRENA, which have a sizeable African cohort among its members, the findings should be a wake up call to find ways to do more and quickly, before many countries get locked in with polluting and warming energy generation for the next few decades.
The study predicts that while 18% energy in 2030 will come from hydropower, fossil fuel driven power will come in at over 65 percent share.
Lead author Galina Alova, a researcher at the Oxford Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment says that “there is a prominent narrative in the energy planning community that the continent will be able to take advantage of its vast renewable energy resources and rapidly decreasing clean technology prices to leapfrog to renewables by 2030 – but our analysis shows that overall it is not currently positioned to do so.”
The study does in fact recommend that cancellation of many of the planned fossil fuel fired plants might be one among the many steps needed to shift the continent’s trajectory to a more sustainable, green option.
Considering the unique challenges faced in many African countries, these steps could include focusing on smaller size, fitting ownership structures, and the availability of development finance.
Traditional inequalities in terms of economic strength and access to financing options will pay out here too, with more developed countries like South Africa expected to add almost 40% of Africa’s total predicted new solar capacity by 2030.
Similarly Namibia is targeting 70% of its electricity from renewables by 2030, as specified in the country’s National Energy Policy and in Intended Nationally Determined Contributions under Paris Climate Change Accord.
Distributed and off grid solar options are also being pushed across multiple countries, and meeting with some serious success. All of these need to scale up massively to force a change in the thinking across major economies like Nigeria in the continent, which have failed to do more, possibly because of the abundance of the fossil duel resources they have.