4. African Renewable Energy Potentials

While significant fossil fuel resources have been discovered in recent years, most oil and gas is exported. At the same time, Africa has very good renewable energy resources that are not yet widely used. The technical feasible hydropower potential is 1,844 TWh (three times current electricity production) and only 5% of this potential is exploited. The wind is over 1,000 GW, more than five times total African installed power generation capacity. Africa has an exceptional solar resource potential, well in excess of 10,000 GW. In parts of the region, biomass and geothermal resources are abundant. Action is needed now to ensure more rapid use of this sustainable energy potential. Renewables use reduces transportation needs for fossil fuels, enhances the trade balance and reduces the cost of energy.

Africa has serious development challenges to address. However, it has the great opportunity to leapfrog aging OECD capital stock and other emerging economies dependent on fossil fuels. And this is a real possibility. Brazil is an example, a modern emerging economy where 47% of all primary energy comes from renewable sources.

The first step in such development is proper planning on a national, regional and continental level. As resources are not evenly spread, energy trade across borders can help to increase reliability and reduce cost. Certain forms of renewable energy may even be exported; there are plans for electricity trade with Europe; and biofuels developments may be promising. Another reason for cooperation is that many national markets are too small to support their own equipment manufacturing industry. However, Africa as a whole is a viable market. This can create jobs and reduce equipment supply costs. In the case of Germany, nearly 1% of all jobs are in the field of renewable energy.

Table 1 shows the abundance of renewable energy resources located in Africa. Today's electricity use is a mere 600 TWh per year. Hydro, solar and wind each could supply the entire demand. The figure for geother-mal is lower but this reflects only the identified projects. The potential may be significantly higher.

The most contentious natural resource projections are for biomass. Estimates in the literature range from 8 EJ (190 Mtoe) (BMVBS, 2011) to nearly 400 EJ (9,600 Mtoe) per year (Hoogwijk, 2004) in 2050. More recent studies tend to be more conservative. A value on the order of 25-50 EJ, on top of the existing 20 EJ traditional biomass, seems reasonable. But development will depend on population patterns, nutrition and trends in agricultural productivity. Climate change will probably reduce productivity but current yields are very low compared to other regions in the world and potential for substantial growth remains a reality.


Sources: See "Sources for Renewable Energy Sources" page 31.