Have you ever considered the impact of solar energy on local economies and communities in Africa? Renewable energy is emerging as an unstoppable force on the continent, propelling it towards a brighter and more sustainable future. In just a decade, its renewable energy capacity has doubled to an impressive 62.1 gigawatts, now representing nearly a quarter of the total electricity production capacity.

It’s a true energy revolution underway, marked by the spectacular rise of solar power. From 1.66 gigawatts in 2014, it has skyrocketed to 13.47 gigawatts by the end of last year. This rapid growth speaks to a profound and promising shift, paving the way for a greener and more prosperous future for Africa.

Dive into the world of solar projects in West and South Africa, and let’s explore together their social and economic impact in these regions, as well as in East Africa. Some of the initiatives mentioned are reshaping the continent’s energy landscape and painting a bright future for its inhabitants.

Renewable Energy Projects in Africa

Flagship Projects in West Africa

In West Africa, ECOWAS, through its renewable energy policy, aims to increase the share of renewable energy in the regional energy mix to 48% by 2030. Thanks to the Clean Energy Corridor Initiative, significant projects are underway to integrate power plants into West African energy systems.

The RESPITE project (Regional Emergency Solar Energy Intervention Project) was launched in 2022 in four African countries: Liberia, Sierra Leone, Chad, and Togo. Financed by the World Bank with $311 million, this project aims to increase grid-connected renewable energy capacity and strengthen regional integration. It includes the installation and operation of 106 megawatts of solar photovoltaic energy with battery storage, as well as the expansion of 41 megawatts of hydroelectric capacity. RESPITE will help improve electricity supply reliability, mitigate the energy crisis, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, it will support the efforts of the West Africa Power Pool to enhance electricity trade in the region.

Another significant project, this time in the Central African Republic: a 25-megawatt solar park with battery storage, located in Danzi, on the outskirts of Bangui, was launched in November 2023. This initiative, supported by the World Bank, will replace over 90% of the previously diesel-produced energy while generating over $4 million annually for the national electricity company. Furthermore, it will contribute to a significant reduction in CO2 emissions, with 670,674 fewer tonnes emitted.

But that’s not all. This project seamlessly integrates into the Electricity Access and Strengthening Program (PARSE), an ambitious initiative aimed at electrifying the peripheral regions of Bangui. Through mini-grid projects and the distribution of solar kits for households, public institutions, and businesses, PARSE promises to profoundly transform the electricity sector and, by extension, the daily lives of Central Africans.

In Senegal, the West African Development Bank (BOAD) approved a $24 million loan for the Niakhar Solar Power project, launched in 2022. This project includes a 15 MW/45 MWh battery energy storage system (BESS) and 30 MW of photovoltaic solar panels. It will enable shifting solar energy to periods of high demand, providing ancillary services to the power grid, and selling electricity to SENELEC, Senegal’s state-owned electricity company.

South Africa: The Powerful Solar Projects Xina Solar One and Karoshoek Solar One

In the South African energy landscape, the top 10 solar projects are predominantly concentrated in the abundantly sunny region of the Northern Cape. For instance, Xina Solar One, associated with the Kaxu Solar One complex near Pofadder in the Northern Cape, boasts an impressive capacity of 100 MW, utilizing cylindrical-parabolic collectors and a thermal storage system.

Similarly, Karoshoek Solar One, just 30 km east of Upington, also offers a power output of 100 MW through rows of cylindrical solar panels, known as “troughs,” which concentrate sunlight onto a receiver tube filled with heat transfer fluid. These installations, among others, underscore South Africa’s growing commitment to renewable energies, significantly contributing to the country’s energy capacity.

From the plains of the West to the shores of Southern Africa, renewable energy projects bear witness to the continent’s increasing dedication to a sustainable future. With each initiative, Africa demonstrates its ability to innovate and thrive in the energy transition. This movement not only promises a transformation of energy systems but also significant economic and social progress. Africa is thus positioning itself as a leader in the transition towards a cleaner and more prosperous energy future.

Social and Economic Impact of Solar Energy in Africa

Energy poverty affects not only households but also businesses and the national economies of African countries. Each year, governments spend around $11 billion to cover the losses of national enterprises and import nearly $10 billion worth of fossil fuels, thereby reinforcing their energy dependence and increasing costs for consumers.

Despite the enormous potential of renewable energies, access to electricity remains a major challenge for many inhabitants of sub-Saharan Africa. 

Indeed, between 2.5 and 3.4 million households in South Africa, representing between 4.5 and 6% of the population, still lack access to electricity. In Nigeria, despite its position as the leading oil producer in Africa, 50% of the population, or 93 million people, do not have access to electricity. These alarming figures highlight the urgent need for sustainable solutions to combat energy poverty and promote sustainable development in Africa.

Let’s explore together the actors who are investing in providing renewable energy solutions, such as solar energy, to transform the continent’s energy situation.

Promoting Solar Energy in East Africa: Growth Supply’s Commitment in Burundi

Between 2021 and 2023, thanks to the investment by Growth Supply, the parent company of Growth Energy, solar kit distribution projects have illuminated the lives of nearly 37,000 people in Burundi and East Africa. These initiatives, with a total capacity of over 7 megawatts, have provided essential access to reliable electricity, creating economic and educational opportunities while strengthening the social fabric.

West Africa: Empowering Women through Solar Sister and REES Africa in Nigeria

Micro-solar grids are transforming entire lives by offering affordable and reliable energy. For women and young girls, this means more than just light: it’s access to financial autonomy.

Since its establishment in 2017, REES Africa has provided solar energy to over 6,000 people in the most disadvantaged regions of Nigeria. Through these micro-solar grids, which can power up to 100 households each, significant improvements are being made in rural communities. Additionally, Solar Sister, a US-based non-governmental organization, has trained over 3,000 women entrepreneurs in Nigeria over the past nine years.

South Africa: Municipal Initiatives for Disadvantaged Populations

The expansion of solar energy among disadvantaged populations in South Africa, supported by the FBAE program, is generating positive economic and social impacts. By providing domestic solar systems to nearly 150,000 households in 2022, municipalities have reduced reliance on traditional energy sources, promoting better health and stimulating local economic development.

In summary, the adoption of renewable energies, particularly solar energy, in Africa brings about profound changes in the living conditions of populations by providing reliable access to electricity, especially to the most vulnerable communities. Additionally, it economically empowers women and contributes to reducing energy poverty on the continent.

Renewable energy propels Africa towards a greener and more dynamic future. This transition to cleaner and more sustainable energy sources is made possible through the commitment of various stakeholders, such as the World Bank and regional banks, as well as private companies like Growth Supply and NGOs like Solar Sister and REES Africa. It not only stimulates economic development but also improves access to electricity for thousands of households, paving the way for a more prosperous future.

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