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Harvesting the movement of the earth’s atmosphere has been known to man ever since the first sails were hoisted on boats and windmills were built to process food.  Wind offers a plentiful, free supply of energy that does not produce greenhouse gases and can decrease African countries’ dependency on pricey oil imports. Wind resources on onshore locations in Africa demonstrate potential  which is large and exploitable using proven technologies enough to meet increases in energy demand  expected  to occur in the coming decades.

Wind farms were first built in the 1980s in Africa and the technology has since made leaps of improvements. Today’s turbines can produce 30 times as much power at one-fifth the price compared to the early days of their deployment.  Still the technology is even today at a nascent stage and contributes less than 1% of total energy installed on the continent.

Wind power projects have increased both in number and size signaling that the market is moving towards maturity. On average built to provide a capacity of around 100 MW wind parks are planned to rise to 200 MW demonstrating a new level of confidence in operating the technology. Typically larger wind projects are implemented in a phased approach allowing investors to better manage risks by for instance gradually  gathering data on wind speeds, testing the technology as well as testing partnerships with public authorities and regulators before launching a full-fledged commercial project.

Although wind power has significant potential to serve as backup power to complement the existing energy supply experience shows that while still at a nascent stage there was need for government sponsorship to speed up expansion of the technology. Accordingly the main supporter in the first phase of wind energy exploitation in Africa were government owned energy agencies mandated to promote clean energy. In the future this pattern in expected to change as private sector participation is anticipated to increase in wind energy generation.. In most cases private sector engagement works through a build own operate scheme where the investing company is responsible for the generation of energy throughout the stages of development.

The wind power potential available in Africa is yet to be tapped. A reason for this is that wind is an intermittent energy source and has significant variability even within close distance making it difficult to assess the economic potential of wind generation. Moreover as long as wind power investment depends on imported turbine components the initial cost of wind projects will remain high. Currently African wind turbine manufacturers are very few. Experience has shown however that government intervention, as policy makers or investors can help support the creation of a viable manufacturing sector which could help promote up scaling of wind power generation in Africa to realize the continents remarkable energy generation potential.

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