Although much energy investment continues to flow into oil and gas exploration, 67% of Africans – particularly those living in rural communities – still lack access to electricity. But as Africa continues to be viewed as a goldmine for clean energy projects, this situation is changing. 

Falling costs of renewable technology make green and especially small-scale solutions cheaper than using fossil fuels. To meet their renewable energy targets, the British and French governments have begun investing in solar photovoltaic plants in the Sahara to supply European countries with clean energy. As a result, innovative and sustainable solutions are winning support as a way of both solving energy shortages within rural communities while enabling developed countries in the West to decarbonise energy production. 

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The African Development Bank (AfDB) has supported this sector’s growth across the continent. Its decision to implement the Sustainable Energy Fund For Africa led it to invest $140m, as part of a consortium, into developing the Sélingué hydropower plant in Niger, and $1.27bn into building the Manantali hydropower plant in Senegal, in a bid to promote sustainable renewable energy production.

In addition, the AfDB’s support of small-scale entrepreneurs, including Tanzania-based Patrick Ngowi, who established the Helvetic Group which sells cheap solar panels to Tanzanians living in the country’s rural regions, will be vital in solving the region’s energy challenges. 

Yet investment into this sector remains inadequate. Compared with the members of the oil-rich Gulf Co-operation Council, which have heavily invested in diversifying their energy sources away from fossil fuels alone, investment into renewables in Africa is limited. Out of 7500 clean development projects globally to date, only 3% took place in Africa. Yet the growing support for locally driven energy solutions by African entrepreneurs, coupled with Western governments’ focus on decarbonising their energy supply, appears to have set Africa on the road to developing as a clean energy producer in coming years.

Mazdak Rafaty is managing partner of Ludwar International Consultancy and SME advisor to the joint Emirati-German Chamber of Commerce. Email: m.rafaty@lic-consulting.com