Africa: renewable energy is on-trend

An industry set to expand by 1,583% in the ten years to 2020. Is this possible?

Claims that geothermal energy production, wind farms and solar power will take off, appear now to be an upcoming reality. These assertions do seem fantastic. It's not for nothing that Africa has been called the "dark" Continent - not for supersticious, nonsensical reasons, but simply because most of it was without electricity.

There was the wonderful story of the enterprising 14-year old Malawian boy who caught the imagination of the world when he constructed a windmill on his father's land. The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind, a book he wrote with Brian Mealer was published in 2009 and the BBC posed the question, "can it be long before the film rights to the triumph-over-adversity story are snapped up, and William Kamkwamba, the boy who dared to dream, finds himself on the big screen?" In a country blighted by drought and power cuts, this was a huge achievement. His scientific, entrepreneurial success brought fame and an invitation to speak at the prestigious 2007 Technology Entertainment Design Conference in Arusha, Tanzania.  Meacher said "Mr. Kamkwamba represents Africa's new "cheetah generation", young people, energetic and technology-hungry, who are taking control of their own destiny."

Now, according to, "investment in renewable power in Africa is set to grow from a total of US$3.6-billion in 2010 to $57-billion by 2020, accompanied by huge foreign direct investment in energy infrastructure.This is one of the findings of Frost & Sullivan's study "Mega Trends in Africa: A bright vision for the growing continent." 

The online site continued "although Africa is endowed with fossil and renewable energy resources, which could more than adequately cover its energy needs, it remains the most poorly electrified continent in the world," Frost & Sullivan said ... "The proportion of people without electricity in Africa is higher than anywhere else on the planet, with as little as 5% of the population having direct access to electricity in some countries. This significant challenge does, however, have a massive potential upside. The need to provide electrification to remote communities is one of the key drivers of renewable energy development on the continent. Frost & Sullivan analyst Ross Bruton said that investment in renewable power in Africa, which totalled a mere $3.6-billion by 2010, "is expected to grow to $57.72-billion by 2020.""

Today Bloomberg reported that:
  • Gibe III on Ethiopia’s Omo River will be Africa's tallest dam and a $2.2 billion project (completion expected 2013)
  • Sudan is preparing to build the $705 million Kajbar dam on the Nile
  • The $729 million Bui project on the Black Volta River will boost Ghana's hydropower capacity by a third (completion expected 2103)
"What these megaprojects have in common is Chinese money and know-how. The country’s engineering and manufacturing giants have recently completed or are participating in at least $9.3 billion of hydropower projects in Zambia, Gabon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and elsewhere on the continent, according to data compiled by Bloomberg and International Rivers, a Berkeley, California-based environmental group."

It's started in earnest. German, French and Spanish investors can't compete on price with the Chinese, whose development loans don't come with strings attached related to good governance, environmental and heritage protection, or respect for human rights as Western nations' ones often do, notes Bloomberg.

At last, a positive news theme from a continent which usually draws in foreign journalists keen to only cover famines, Zimbabwean farm or mine seizures, election malpractice, wars, religious tensions or civil strife. 

There will be casualties with these projects.  But kids will be educated in air-conditioned classrooms, there will be light in rural villages and remote hospitals will get power. There will definitely be benefits, and enhanced living standards for the general population should follow. In The Gambia electricity would halt devastating deforestation to fuel charcoal cooking fires. You only have to see photographs of that region shot from space to witness how the Sahara has encroached and now virtually touches the great Gambia River. But electricity has to be cheaply produced, and cost-effective to consume, as otherwise tree-felling would persist.

Frost & Sullivan's predictions seem sensibly calculated. So, is the second ten years of this Millenium turning out to be, as EconomyWatch foresaw, the "African Decade"?

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