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Developing Renewable Energy in Africa: A Practical Solution

Africa is endowed with vast natural resources and is in the best position to adopt RE technologies and play a leading role in the global energy RE market.

Photo by Dan Meyers on Unsplash

I once lived in a place in my home country where electricity was available for less than 5 times in a year. This is the experience of many Africans. The continent's energy industry definitely needs a radical transformation. But how do we achieve this drastic change?

I usually include in my personal statement that to improve on the energy sector in developing countries, my focus would be on building cost-effective sustainable energy solutions, because I believe this phrase covers two fundamentals for successful project execution. As much as it pricks me to admit this, many Africans still live below the poverty line. As a result, a renewable energy (RE) scheme cannot afford to be pricey if it is to be implemented successfully. A sustainable solution guarantees a longer lifecycle which is of high importance as well.

However, much more than cost-effectiveness and sustainability, there is a bitter truth that must be faced in this article if practicality is indeed the aim, and that is corruption. I consider this to be the biggest obstacle to RE development in Africa. The heavy reliance on oil despite the increase in investments from international bodies and foreign countries signifies that there is little progress. So, we need to take a step back to critically analyze the processes and procedures in place.

To illustrate this, the Federal Government of Nigeria has developed the National Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Policy that contains the government's strategy for deploying RE in Nigeria. In addition, the government invested $20 billion in solar projects in 2017. With these, one would think considerable efforts are being made; yet, according to IEA Energy Outlook, electricity generation from fossil fuel is still on the increase with 80% of the power generated comes from gas and most of the remainder from oil.

Forget the policies, how are funds managed and the projects run? These are questions that have to be answered in total transparency before more money is to be pumped in with minimal results to show. In January 2020, the UK awarded £50 m to support clean energy projects across Africa. When I saw this, I could not help but worry.

The Solution

I believe that the best way to tackle this corruption problem is by bringing new players into the game; specifically, young, passionate, and educated minds. This goes beyond financing start-ups to mentoring entrepreneurs on how to build successful RE businesses. A perfect example of this in action is the Tony Elumelu Foundation which is built on the Africapitalism concept that emphasizes the role of the private sector especially entrepreneurs in facilitating Africa's development. Since its inception in 2010, the foundation has empowered over 9000 entrepreneurs. We need more of this for the RE industry. It might sound like a daunting task but it would be worth it as the energy sector influences economic development to a great extent.

One very important benefit of empowering startups is competition. The more actors we have in the RE industry, the more competitive the market becomes, and competition drives innovation and helps reduce electricity costs.

Technically, there might be other factors in play like the integration to grid challenges; however, I believe this is a good start that would trigger more solutions as progress is made.

Africa is endowed with vast natural resources and is in the best position to adopt RE technologies and play a leading role in the global energy RE market. I eagerly look forward to industry players and international bodies changing the game.

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