In the next 20 years, global energy consumption will rise by around 37%. This should prompt us to look for palliative solutions, in the sense that not only fossil fuels are increasingly depleted but they also pollute the environment. The option of using renewable energies is increasingly being considered in Africa. Before getting started, however, there are a number of questions that should be asked.

1. What exactly is renewable energy?

A renewable energy is one which does not produce any (or in small quantity) polluting emissions during its exploitation. They are also considered as those energies which renew themselves quickly, and which are easily considered inexhaustible considering the scale of human time. The main sources of renewable energy can be classified into five (05) categories namely: hydropower, solar energy, bioenergy, wind energy, and geothermal energy.

1.1. Solar energy

It is obtained from the conversion of solar radiation. It can be converted into heat or electricity. Its source being the sun, it is considered an intermittent source of energy, due to the absence of sun at night.

There are three types of solar technology:

  • Photovoltaic (PV) panels: they directly transform the recovered energy into electricity. For commercial production, several photovoltaic panels can be grouped together in solar parks.
  • Solar thermal technologies: energy is recovered in the form of heat. A distinction is made between active and passive solar thermal energy. In the case of active solar thermal, panels or collectors recover heat from the sun. In passive solar thermal energy, a building is heated directly by its glazed surfaces (greenhouse effect) and / or by accumulating heat on walls that are exposed to radiation.
  • Concentrated solar power plants: These are usually large solar power plants connected to the electricity grid.

1.2. Wind energy

This energy is obtained thanks to a wind turbine. The mechanical energy of the wind is converted into electricity by the rotation of the blades. The energy obtained can be distributed to the electrical network using a transformer.

1.3. Hydraulic energy

It is the most developed. It is drawn either from natural waterfalls (waterfall) or man-made (hydroelectric dams). The latter still pose some problems to the natural environment by hindering the migration of marine animals, the transfer of sediments or the continuity of waterways.

1.4. Bioenergy

It is obtained from organic agricultural or forestry residues like wood, slurry … or industrial waste. It is used in energy production processes such as biofuel, biogas. Bioenergy contributes to the recovery of waste, as well as to the reduction of greenhouse gases.

1.5. Geothermal energy

It is drawn from the heat of the earth. Continuous operation of a plant can last for 30 to 60 years. As the heat is unlimited, it will be available for future generations.

2. Does Africa have a future in renewable energies?

Africa has great potential for solar energy, in that Africa’s annual sunshine time is among the highest on the planet – around 3,000 hours per year. This is an untapped (or very little exploited) potential that can allow him to be a leader. The challenges facing Africa are as follows: a need for financing, access to infrastructure as well as to the technologies necessary for the development of this energy source.

3. What is the state of the sector in Africa?

When we talk about renewable energy, one might think that no action has been taken so far. Yet energy consumption in Africa revolves around hydraulic and fossil fuels as well as biomass (traditional use).

In addition, Africa has some of the largest solar farms in the world. We can cite among others: the “Noor” power plant in Morocco, “Senergy 2” in Senegal or even those in Niger, Burkina Faso, Kenya, Zambia, etc.

It should be noted that the cost of producing solar energy has dropped considerably, thus encouraging those who wish to get started. However, the cost of storage can be a brake because it is quite expensive.

4. Which organizations are promoting renewable energy projects in Africa?

We can cite among others:

  • IRENA (International Renewable Energy Agency – since 2009). Its activity consists of encouraging the use of renewable energies in whatever form, in a sustainable manner. It is an intergovernmental organization that represents stakeholders in the sector and also acts as an advisor on the matter.
  • The IAER (Africa Renewable Energy Initiative): is a project for the development of renewable energies throughout the African continent. It aims to achieve a production capacity of 10 GW in 2020.
  • The PERC (Renewable Energy Policy of ECOWAS): This policy was adopted in 2012 by the member states of ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States. It provides for the development and implementation of action plans (PANER or Regional Action Plans for Renewable Energies) which should make it possible to achieve the objectives set for the years 2020 and 2030.
    Adopted by the member states of ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) in 2012, it provides for the establishment of National Renewable Energy Action Plans (PANER) for member states . These action plans should make it possible to achieve the objectives set by PERC for the years 2020 and 2030.
  • The FEDA (Sustainable Energy Fund for Africa): funded by Denmark, Italy, the United States and the United Kingdom, supports the economic growth managed by the private sector of African countries through the use of resources into clean energy, by awarding subsidies.

5. What are the current renewable energy projects?

There are many ongoing projects such as the Benban solar park in Egypt (1.6 GW), the project for the first floating solar power plant in Africa in Côte d’Ivoire, the six solar megaprojects in Ethiopia. …

In addition, the Evolution II project mobilized $ 216 million through fundraising, intended to be invested in renewable energies in Africa.

There is a plethora of renewable energy projects, however, they are not always well coordinated or little known. On the other hand, in some countries such as Cameroon and Uganda, 90% of the electricity produced is based on renewable energies (large hydroelectric plants).

6. Small hydropower plants: what can they do?

The number of small hydroelectric power stations is certainly on the increase, but does not allow large-scale production. Cameroon has 262 of them, each providing about 50KW. Tanzania also has enormous potential for small hydropower plants, as does the DRC. These power stations supply isolated villages with electricity without them being connected to the grid.

The number of small hydroelectric power stations is certainly on the increase, but does not allow large-scale production. Cameroon has 262 of them, each providing about 50KW. Tanzania also has enormous potential for small hydropower plants, as does the DRC. These power stations supply isolated villages with electricity without them being connected to the grid.

7. What are the actions of the international community?

This offers several financing possibilities through: the European Union, European countries such as Sweden, Germany, France and Belgium, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Bank World, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). These can be loans or donations.

8. Stop using fossil fuels by 2050, is it a gamble in Africa?

This is possible but not for all countries. However, wind and solar power will not be sufficient, unless there is reliable and affordable electricity storage capacity. However, countries with biomass and hydropower also stand a chance of winning the bet.

9. Can Africa acquire the expertise it needs to maintain solar panels?

It’s not just engineers that Africa needs, but also civil servants. In short, it is not only a question of creating enough engineering schools (which is increasingly being done) but also of training civil servants. In addition, the poor state of the electricity networks (hence the constant cuts in certain areas) reminds us that we should also invest at this level.

10. Can the energy transition go smoothly?

This transition is going well. It will be done at the pace of each country and will therefore be done in a staggered manner. New jobs, for example, will not be created at the same time everywhere. However, policies will need to be put in place to manage the impact on current jobs.

It is important to invest in renewable energy. However, the brakes that investors often encounter should not be ignored. Each actor will have to make a contribution to the edifice in order to allow this young and ambitious continent to shine brightly.

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