There are a plethora of initiatives targeting renewable energy in Africa. ‘Desert to power’, ‘Power Africa’ and the ‘New deal on energy for Africa’, are all meant to harness, among other things, Africa’s potential for renewable energy. The latest is a German initiative to pump €100m into renewables through the African Development Bank. 

And rightly so — estimates by the International Renewable Energy Agency suggest that Africa could, in theory, supply 40% of the world’s solar potential, and more than 10% of the world’s wind capacity by 2050. This could be transformational for the 600 million people on the continent with no electricity, and ensure Africa’s vision of becoming the world’s largest manufacturing hub and third-largest economy by 2063. 


​​While many idealise Africa’s leapfrogging towards renewable energy, the continent has a long way to go to really move the needle in global renewable energy generation. Currently, it accounts for only 2% of the green energy generated globally — the UK alone has more solar production than all of Africa — while its contribution to the global extraction of coal, oil and gas is twice as high, BP data show. 

Considering Africa’s demographic boom and need for economic growth in the wake of Covid-19, energy production undoubtedly has to rise on the continent. 

But here is the specific challenge: yes, richer countries should move quickly away from fossil fuels and bring the cost of renewables down as a positive global spillover. However, as they do so, they should not leave less wealthy countries behind to depend on cheap, sub-standard, polluting energy. There is significant renewable energy investment taking place globally — the challenge is to divert the majority of it towards Africa. 

That’s why commitments at the 2021 climate conference must move beyond broad, net-zero or climate finance pledges, and specify targets and plans to shape the energy transition equitably. Only then will we see African countries with the finance and technology to truly lead and leapfrog.

Hannah Wanjie Ryder is the CEO of consultancy Development Reimagined and senior associate at the Center for Strategic International Studies Africa Program. E-mail:

This article first appeared in the October/November print edition of fDi Intelligence. View a digital edition of the magazine here.