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Renewable Energy

Renewable EnergyRenewable energy is already used widely benefiting Africa by expanding access to modern and affordable energy. Over the past decade African energy has been increasingly provided by natural resources with over 72% of new capacity generated from renewables.    This rapid up scaling of clean energy has centred heavily on hydro power while growth in other renewable forms of energy including solar, wind and biomass has been much more modest. This is largely based on economic reasons as hydroenergy offers the lowest cost among renewables together with a  safe payback and a potential for large energy generation that have made it a preferred political choice.

However Africa now is at a juncture where prospects for renewables besides hydro are expected to improve reinforcing the opportunity for the continent to move towards a carbon free energy trajectory. The costs of solar and wind as well as other forms of clean energy are falling rapidly making renewable energy an  increasingly attractive option. Moreover for populations who are off the grid representing about 600 million  people in sub Saharan Africa decentralized renewables are the only option for enjoying access to modern energy and one which is increasingly affordable. Finally there are increased opportunities today for financing the transition to a clean energy system through funds available for climate change mitigation presenting African countries with additional means to transform their energy infrastructure.

Energy is also a crucial factor that will decide whether the global community and Africa can undertake the transformation of energy sector to a clean, efficient energy system needed to avoid the most negative consequences of climate change. Reversing the process of global warming is especially important for poorer nations and most vulnerable populations depending significantly on natural resources which are expected to be impacted significantly over the coming decades. Adequate provision of water, food and energy are all expected to be impacted by the shift in climate threatening to erode gains achieved in development over the past decades.

Decisions on the energy supply will also crucially impact the nature of growth and how inclusive its benefits are for the more vulnerable groups.  For the current fossil fuel system is also inequitable. As many as 60% of populations in sub Saharan Africa are outside the grid map relying on forest resources and biomass to power their daily tasks. Yet without access to modern energy people struggle to meet basic needs such as lighting, cooking, heating and hygiene. At the same overharvesting of firewood can degrade forests reducing their capacity to supply fuel while also obliging women and children to spend ever longer hours in search of wood which could be directed towards more productive uses. Deployment of renewables that are fit for modular installation can offer  crucial energy services to off grid populations for development of central human capabilities as well as ensure sustainability of forest resources.

With rapidly falling prices clean renewable technologies present an option which is also grounded on economic terms. Hydro power offering the cheapest costs and safe payback in renewable technologies has been essential in allowing a rapid expansion of renewable technologies but other forms are becoming increasingly competitive. Wind power for instance is now equally cost efficient to grid supplied electricity in windy locations. An important indicator of the potential of deployment of renewables is the expectation for cost reduction as the scale of implementation increases. Renewable EnergyDespite their initial costs therefore the crucial factor demonstrating the economic feasibility of clean energy generation is the learning curve and whether it can give confidence that the technology is able to achieve desirable cost reductions within an acceptable timeframe and a feasible investment framework.

Moreover renewable energies can enhance energy security by helping African economies diversify their energy base.  For use of renewables can put a break on African countries dependency on oil imports as well as limit the need for emergency power through diesel generators representing a significant cost to African states.

Increasingly aware of the development and economic potential of renewable energy African states are working together to create enabling environments for adoption of clean energy. Through the creation of the Regional Initiative for Renewable Energies (IRED) Members of the Economic Community of West African States Union (ECOWAS) aim to increase the share renewables into the regional energy mix   by 82% up to 2030. Moreover through the West Africa Power Pool ECOWAS states are collaborating to unify their power networks and create a common grid for the transmission of energy. Power pooling to capture economies of scale can make large scale energy generation projects more attractive to potential investors helping ECOWAS countries attain the regional clean energy target. 

New energy markets require innovation including new models for management of risk, financing approaches, reliable information on the resource, coherent policy frameworks and value chains for construction, transmission and distribution of new energy capacity. A range of actors including state, power pool operators,  regulators, finance institutions need to master a wide range of skills to plan initiate, design, secure finance,  operate and maintain projects. The African Biofuel and Renewable Energy Company works to promote private public partnership for renewable energy and energy efficient technologies in Africa. Since its founding in 2009 its  role has been to identify opportunities for the scaling up of private as well as state finance for electricity generation from renewable energy sources in the sub-Saharan region and  facilitate entry of actors that bring new climate-mitigation investments. 

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