Data-based Decision-making Vital for Africa’s Renewable Energy Planning
Solar accounts for just 1.2% of total electricity generation as of 2019
January 10, 2023
The Renewable Energy Performance Platform (REPP) has curated a spatially explicit database for existing and proposed renewable power projects in Africa to enable data-based decision-making for the optimization of renewable energy planning.
UK-based REPP works to mobilize private sector development activity and investment in small to medium-sized projects of up to 25 MW.
The database covers Africa’s georeferenced information spanning over a total of 1,074 hydropower plants (HPP), 1,128 solar power projects (SPP), and 276 wind power projects (WPP).
The study found that given the dependence of solar and wind power on meteorological variables, power generation from these sources was variable and intermittent. To address this challenge, increased research attention has been given to approaches that investigate integrated renewable energy storage options.
The team expects the contemporary, curated database on renewable power projects in Africa will enable the research community to address and fill the current research gaps and advance integrated renewable energy modeling.
The database revealed that solar accounts for just 1.2% of total electricity generation while wind contributes 1.5% as of 2019. Solar and wind power have exhibited the highest growth rates among Africa’s renewable energy resources and yet they only contribute marginally to Africa’s resource mix.
The continent currently faces the challenge of providing electricity to over 43% of the population, accounting for 596 million people who lack access. Additionally, to advance climate change mitigation and achieve long-term climate goals, the electricity sector must become climate neutral by 2050.
Database on Existing and Proposed Projects
Currently, Africa has 446 HPPs operating with reservoir storage, 286 run-of-river HPPs, and 17 HPPs with a pumped-storage system. No adequate information could be provided for 325 HPPs (30% of the total), with 86% of these categorized as proposed (281 HPPs), the study said.
For solar, 1,072 SPPs are operating or proposed, 47 as concentrated solar power (CSP), and 9 as concentrator photovoltaics (CPV) type plants.
Additionally, 401 HPPs, 411 SPPs, and 127 WPPs are existing or under construction, with a total capacity of 59.56 GW, 10.56 GW, and 10.53 GW respectively.
As of November last year, 673 HPPs, 717 SPPs, and 149 WPPs are proposed with a total respective capacity of 130.85 GW, 53.32 GW, and 16.87 GW.
Till November 2022, all 55 African countries have installed or proposed energy generation capacity from renewable energy resources.
Hydropower remains the primary renewable electricity resource in the continent, accounting for 70% of the renewable electricity share. This corresponds to 16% of total electricity production.
Africa also has the highest untapped hydropower potential worldwide, with only 11% of the resources currently being used. It is estimated the remaining potential amounts to approximately 2.3 Petawatt hours per year, at costs of more than $0.5/kWh.
However, the study finds, while the costs and risks of large hydropower plants (HPPs) have been underestimated, their benefits were highly overestimated.
Last October, research published in Nature Energy said the immense benefits of a high renewable energy share in the African energy mix are indisputable, but the objective can be met only by adopting a country and context-specific strategy instead of treating the continent as a monolith.
In a report last year, International Renewable Energy Agency and African Development Bank said a calibrated policy framework centered on renewable energy can help resolve many of Africa’s social, economic, health, and environmental challenges.