Sub-Saharan Africa’s population is expected to double by 2050, leading to a predicted increase in energy demand by a third over the next decade and necessitating a ten-fold increase in power generation capacity by 2065. Africa has abundant resources such as natural gas, sunshine, wind, and rare Earth minerals, creating significant potential for renewable energy growth. The challenge lies in ensuring that Africa’s renewable energy production capacity is harnessed to serve its own urgent energy needs while achieving decarbonization goals.
Electrifying Africa is going to be one of the most significant challenges (and promising economic opportunities) of the global clean energy transition. The population of sub-Saharan Africa is the fastest growing in the world and expected to double by 2050. Meeting the energy demand of this rapidly growing population will require a ten-fold increase in power generation capacity by 2065.
Africa’s current energy problem is unique. While most economies were able to develop using fossil fuels, African leaders must leapfrog over that phase and adopt expensive green technologies. Currently, 600 million people across the African continent lack access to energy, but Africa also represents one of the most significant markets for renewable energy production growth potential.
Foreign investors, such as Russia and China, are already investing in African energy markets to develop energy resources and secure their own energy security. European countries are also pushing into Northern Africa to build solar farms in the Sahara Desert. Manufacturing in sub-Saharan Africa is on the rise, and solar panels built in Africa are becoming cost-competitive with those built in China.
However, there is a dilemma. While renewable energy supply chains are being established by foreign countries, there is no guarantee that this newfound renewable energy production capacity will meet the urgent demand of Africa’s own energy grids. Half of the continent’s population lacks reliable access to energy, which is a fundamental barrier to development.
Additionally, these renewable energy resources are crucial for Africa to reach its decarbonization goals and reduce its reliance on fossil fuels. However, the cost of developing renewable energy in Africa is a challenge. A recent study estimates that the cheapest investment cost to achieve a renewable energy-powered grid in Africa would be $298 billion.
Despite the challenges, Africa has the potential to become a major player in global energy markets. It is essential for African leaders to find ways to harness the continent’s abundant renewable energy resources to meet its own energy needs and support sustainable development.