Renewable energies in AfricaCurrent knowledge
Published: February 10, 2012
Existing Statistical data on energy supply and demand have a large uncertainty, both in terms of quantity and costs or price. The available data which were used for this report indicate a wide range
both of per capita energy consumption (100 to 2000 kgoe/cap/y) and per capita electricity consumption (50 to 4000 kWh/cap/y). Relative to the average of the European Union, this corresponds to up to 35
times less regarding all energy, and up to 100 times less regarding electricity. Even though electrification made considerable progress in the past 10 years, 600 Mio of rural population has no
access to electricity at all.
This report assesses in detail the renewable energy options for electricity production in rural areas, where the de-centralised feature of these technologies allow an economically viable competition with
conventional grid extension. It is particularly true in remote areas where the nearest grid infrastructure is already unreliable and overloaded. In areas where household density is low (<50 cap/km2), any
investment in larger grid infrastructure would never be cost competitive. This report enhances also insight in the transport costs of conventional fuel, taking a population density to be served and
transport infrastructure into account.
Regarding renewable resources, geographical data on solar radiation, wind weather patterns, biomass resources of forests, agriculture and residues as well as water resource data have been assembled. Such
an approach allows for each region of Africa to estimate the best choice or mix of renewable resources, taking fully into account sustainability and environmental criteria. It is hoped that these data can be
referenced by African states involving in setting up a national renewable energy action plan.
A detailed analysis is given regarding one of the currently major energy vectors, biomass combustion and charcoal, as it is not only supplying almost 60% of current energy needs, but a major target to
improve efficiency by modern technologies. Such improvement is of key importance, as it would avoid the negative health effects, reduce specific greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to sustainable
Finally, current costs of technology are compared to existing energy costs, assuming also "willingnessto-pay" estimates. This comparison also reveals the influence of existing energy subsidies in the slow
deployment of renewable resources.
The report was compiled in relatively short time, and it shows the remarkable capability of the JRC to pool instantaneously available expertise. However, a range of important items should be studied better
in a follow-up:
- · More precise energy data, in particular current energy prices and in general more consistent and harmonized data. Large parts of this report's Energy data miss at least 10 countries, including some with considerable population.
- · The potential of smaller scale (<50 kW) wind-energy systems within hybrid solar/(bio-)dieselgenerator/wind electricity systems has not yet been studied
- · A systematic biomass resource assessment has still to be developed, in particular regarding yield-increase, competition of resources along food, fuel, feed and fibre, the distribution vectors and human resources.4
- · On a longer perspective, the effect of climate change on the rural environment should be studied, both regarding floods, draughts and solar radiation changes.
- · More socioeconomic studies regarding the estimated growth of rural and urban area population. Renewable energy as de-centralised source has the potential to limit the excessive growth towards mega-cities.
Renewable Energy in Africa is a huge opportunity to allow for a better standard of living for a large part of current and future population in Africa. However, it should be pointed out here that much of the
knowledge, - including that which is also presented in this report -, should be transferred swiftly to research and technology partners in Africa, in collaboration and co-operation with the wide range of
existing research and university infrastructure. Only if much of the research, prototyping, demonstration and large scale deployment are done by African people, one can accelerate the uptake of renewable energy in Africa.