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Africa: 76% of Africa's power could come from renewables in 2040 - here's how

Over half of Africa's people - about 600 million - lack access to even the bare minimum of electricity. The tough question to answer is how access can be extended without adding to global warming by relying on fossil fuels.

The database shows that some countries, such as Nigeria and Zimbabwe, have enough projects in the pipeline to potentially transition away from fossil fuels by 2050. And that 76% of all electricity required on the continent could come from renewable resources by 2040. This would happen if the capacity of existing hydro-, solar and wind power plants were fully utilised and if all plants currently on the drawing-board were built.

The 76% from renewables would be met by 82% hydropower, 11% solar power and 7% wind power. Hydropower has been the main renewable energy resource to date, but declining costs for solar photovoltaics (90% decline since 2009) and wind turbines (55%-60% decline since 2010) mean solar and wind have potential to lead sustainable renewable energy options.

We conclude that combining the advantages of hydropower with wind and solar would be a more sustainable alternative to hydropower alone. And that hybrid solutions would be the best option.

But none of this can happen unless countries are willing to get into transnational electricity sharing arrangements. In addition, providing openly accessible and location specific data is fundamental for the development of an integrated sustainable renewable energy mix.

We compiled the publicly available records of 1,074 hydropower, 1,128 solar and 276 wind power plants into one database. These were both existing and planned plants. We included the location of each proposed plant for all African countries.

We then integrated the data into a harmonised and updated database. This is the first comprehensive overview of renewable energy plants in Africa that includes their geographic coordinates, construction status and capacity (in megawatts).

This database shows that some countries have enough projects in the pipeline to potentially transition away from fossil fuels.

Hydropower is used by Eswatini, Angola, Djibouti, Gambia, Cameroon, Tanzania, Lesotho and the Democratic Republic of Congo as a major or main source of renewable electricity.

Other countries, including Egypt, South Africa, Algeria, Libya, Cape Verde, Morocco and Tunisia, are lagging behind in renewable energy development. These countries are highly electrified and their economies depend strongly on fossil fuels.

We found that hydropower could more than double to 132GW. This would happen if those plants that have already had feasibility studies carried out were built. The Aswan High Dam has an installed capacity of 2.1GW and generates most of Egypt's energy. So 132GW would be enough to provide power for several countries.


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