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The role of renewable energy in the growth of Sub-Saharan Africa

BY GIULIA MENICUCCI. It could be called Sub-Saharan Africa’s energy's paradox: despite the countries that have a large diffusion of oil fuels, the region has the lowest electricity access rate in the world. Roughly one-fifth of Sub-Saharian Africa’s population has access to electricity, and when you consider the rural population, the access rate radically goes down to 8%.

In the urban areas, energy infrastrucures and services are often insufficient, and there are frequent power outages and other inconveniences. Those chronic power problems have serious repercussions that affect the economies of roughly 30 countries.

Despite the fact that Sub-Saharan Africa is an oil-rich region (considering that Niger is among the 10 leading countries with the world’s biggest oil reserves), the majority of the population is still without acces to electricity. Moreover, it pays the consequence of oil expoloitation in terms of geo-political instability, wars over the control of oil wells, extreme poverty, pollution and environmental disasters such as the degradation of land and fresh-water resources.

This predicament demonstrates the urgent need to find a solution to guarantee electricity access for thousands of people. For all those reasons and more, the adoption of renewable resource could be the best solution to provide to the power problems in this area.

Sub-Saharan Africa, as it turns out, has a wealth of renewable resources (just 0.3% of sunlight that shines on the Sahara desert could supply all of Europe's energy needs, experts estimate). Furthermore, renewable resources — unlike fossil-fuels — are non-exhaustible and produce energy in a clean and non-polluting way.

The good news is there is tremendous potential for further development of renewable energy in Africa, and this is drawing the attention of both foreign mid-sized investors and larger, market-leading energy companies alike. (Thanks, in no small measure, to successful programs such as REIPPP.) Some examples: the German company SMA Solar Technology has launched an inverter-factory for local PV production in Cape Town; Convert South Africa, a subsidiary of the Italian company Convert Italia, opened a facility in Johannesburg that specializes in photovoltaic trackers and PV hybrid systems. Then there’s Google, which invested $ 12 million in a solar power project in the Northern Cape province.

Ultimately, the increase of renewable energy adoption could extend electricity access across Sub-Saharan Africa and could potentially boost the economic growth and productivity in the region. Furthermore, the adoption of renewables could foster a sustainable socio-economic development linked to the expansion of this sector. And this could potentially lead to additional foreign investment, the growth of local industries and, of course, job creation.

Giulia Menicucci is a freelance blogger and web editor who has a Master's degree in Philosophy and Critical-Theory studies. Her areas of interest include geopolitics, environmental policies, ecological perspectives and renewable energies. She may be reached via e-mail at:

Posted 17/12/2014 by Reg Tucker

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