The vast renewable energy potential of East and Southern Africa could simultaneously meet the regions’ energy needs, and facilitate sustainable economic growth. This according to a recently published study by International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) titled “Planning and prospects for renewable power: Eastern and Southern Africa.”
The master plans for the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP) and East African Power Pool (EAPP) forecast that electricity demand is set to grow at between 3.4 and 5 percent per year to 2040 in the two regions. Meeting that demand is key to bolstering long-term growth in the region’s 21 countries, leaving planners and policy makers with highly consequential decisions to make on the future of the energy mix.
IRENA’s study assesses the long-term energy plans for the two regional power pools. The study finds that the East and Southern African region is well-endowed with high quality, cost-effective, but under-utilised wind and solar resources.
According to IRENA’s analysis, 230 gigawatts (GW) of solar PV and wind alone is possible in the two regions, which could represent a combined share of 50 per cent of total capacity by 2040. That’s around three times the share of renewables capacity currently installed in the region today.
“A renewables-based energy pathway has the potential to do more than just meet the region’s growing energy needs,” said IRENA Director-General Francesco La Camera. “It promises to fuel an unparalleled age of inclusive, sustainable growth well into the 21st century.”
Sustainable growth through renewables
There is planned new coal energy capacity in the East and Southern African regions. An estimated 100 GW of new coal-fired power generation could be brought online over the next 20 years based on existing power pool master plans. Exploiting coal to meet rapidly growing electricity demand is likely to expose regional economies to the potential of stranded assets and future write-downs, IRENA says.
In order to ensure sustainable economic growth and development whilst advancing climate compliance, the regions have to invest more in renewables. This could create thousands of jobs and see new industries established. Renewables can help improve energy access, enhance energy security, and long-term economic growth and stability.
The African Clean Energy Corridor (ACEC) countries could cost-effectively meet more than 60 per cent of their electricity needs with renewables by 2040. This is based on assessment on the regions’ renewables potential and falling renewable energy technology costs.
“Through rigorous energy planning, the region can simultaneously meet immediate needs while aligning decisions with medium- and long-term economic objectives,” said IRENA Director-General Francesco La Camera.
IRENA’s scenario for a renewable-based power system across the ACEC region requires significant investments over the next 20 years. According to the study, over USD 560 billion is needed between now and 2040 in power generation projects. A quarter of this relates to committed projects. However, these investments will pay off.