Feb 06, 2024 | Blog

Empowering Africa: Enhancing Access To Electricity Through Renewable Energy

Empowering Africa: Enhancing Access To Electricity Through Renewable Energy

This is the 1st post in a blog series to be published in 2024 by the APET Secretariat on behalf of the AU High-Level Panel on Emerging Technologies (APET)

Africa is rich in renewable energy resources, including abundant sunlight, strong winds, and geothermal energy. However, the continent faces various challenges hindering the widespread adoption of clean energy sources. For instance, infrastructure gaps, such as limited grid reach to remote areas and insufficient battery storage for intermittent energy, serve as constraints.[1] High initial costs and technological barriers, particularly in the environmental and ethical aspects of lithium batteries, further impede progress. Furthermore, policy and institutional challenges, particularly weak regulatory frameworks, and limited capacity, contribute to the difficulties.  Social and environmental concerns, such as land acquisition and the impact of renewable projects on ecosystems, add additional layers of complexity.

As a result of the complexities discussed above, the African continent has the lowest rate of electricity access in the world, leaving over 640 million Africans without reliable energy sources. The electricity access rate among African Union (AU) Member States barely exceeds 40%. In stark contrast to the 13,000-kWh per capita energy consumption in the United States and 6,500 kWh in Europe, some AU Member States only achieve 180 kWh.[2]  The continent heavily relies on fossil fuels for a significant portion of its electricity generation. Currently, wind contributes 0.01% to the subcontinent’s energy, solar power provides 2%, geothermal energy accounts for 4% – 5%, hydropower contributes 17%, while fossil fuels dominate the energy landscape with a substantial 77%.[3] This significant disparity hinders the realisation of the AU's Agenda 2063, which considers electricity access as essential for personal and socio-economic development.

The absence of reliable source of energy such as electricity, hampers economic growth, by impacting industries’ operational efficiency and deterring foreign investments. Furthermore, inefficient access to electricity adversely affects various aspects of daily life, including education, healthcare, and communication services, thereby perpetuating a cycle of poverty.[4] Without reliable access to sustainable electricity solutions, Africa remains vulnerable to underdevelopment, unemployment, migration, political instability, and various other challenges.[5]

Evidently, the energy crisis in Africa is caused by three factors: the inadequate state of energy infrastructure, reliance on non-renewable energy sources, and insufficient investment in the energy sector. Many countries on the continent struggle with outdated and insufficient power generation, transmission, and distribution systems. The heavy use of fossil fuels not only leads to environmental degradation but also worsens existing energy challenges. Moreover, limited financial resources, both domestic and foreign, restrict necessary upgrades and expansions for sustainable energy development.[6]

The challenges discussed above highlight the critical need for AU Member States to enhance their capabilities comprehensively, addressing infrastructure, technology, policy, and social factors.  To this end, African countries are actively seeking solutions, such as investing in mini-grids, researching next-generation batteries, creating hybrid systems, and fortifying policy frameworks. Such a holistic approach is vital to unlocking Africa's renewable energy potential and steering towards a sustainable and clean energy future.[7]

In a concerted effort to bridge the electricity deficit in Africa and expedite the realisation of the African Union (AU) Agenda 2063, the African Union High-Level Panel on Emerging Technologies (APET) recommends that AU Member States embrace the utilisation of renewable resources for electricity generation.  The APET report titled, “Let There be Light: Harnessing Next-Generation Batteries for Africa's Energy Needs” urges AU Member States to adopt renewable energies such as solar, wind, geothermal and lithium batteries for universal electricity access on the continent, an aspiration which aligns with the broader objectives of the AU Agenda 2063.[8]  Consequently, the APET report proposes integrating next-generation batteries alongside renewable energy to revolutionise Africa's electricity access. These innovative batteries address storage challenges, ensuring consistent power supply even during periods without sun or wind, thereby maximising the potential of renewable energy for a sustainable, equitable future with universal clean electricity access.

Many African countries are undertaking projects which demonstrate diverse approaches in addressing the continent's electricity challenges. For example, in Seychelles, sodium-ion batteries are undergoing testing for solar mini-grids on remote islands, providing a safer alternative to lead-acid batteries. South Africa, on the other hand,  is investigating solid-state batteries for grid-connected renewable energy projects, aiming for faster charging times and longer lifespans to stabilise the grid. South Africa's research on solid-state batteries for microgrids enhances energy security in small communities. Meanwhile, a pilot project in Kenya employs vanadium redox batteries for energy storage from a small hydropower plant, particularly beneficial for areas with limited grid access.[9]

In addition to initiatives at the country level, APET encourages the creation of regional battery manufacturing hubs as a strategic move towards universal access to renewable energy on the continent. An example is the East African Community Battery Manufacturing Initiative, which focuses on lithium batteries for electric vehicles, and the West African Clean Energy Corridor Project, which emphasises sodium-ion batteries for energy storage. Additionally, mini-grids and off-grid solar-battery systems, like the Rural Electrification Project in Mali, and the Solar Home Systems initiative in Rwanda, demonstrate the versatile application of next-generation batteries and micro-grids in addressing electricity challenges in Africa as indicated in the APET report. The report also recommends the integration of various next-generation batteries alongside existing lithium-ion technologies, thereby presenting a comprehensive strategy for Africa's diverse energy landscape.[10]

Another example of the utilisation of renewable energy is Namibia’s pilot project using sodium-ion batteries for peak shaving and grid stabilisation alongside solar and wind farms.[11] In the Democratic Republic of Congo, vanadium redox batteries store energy from a mini-hydropower plant, thereby providing reliable power to remote communities.[12] Furthermore, the Panel recommends regional battery manufacturing hubs, such as the East Africa Community Battery Initiative and the West African Clean Energy Corridor Project, which both aim to establish lithium-ion and next-generation battery manufacturing.[13] Additionally, mini-grid and off-grid solar battery systems in Mali, Ethiopia, and Madagascar showcase the scalability and versatility of next-generation technologies.[14] Innovative financing solutions, such as public-private partnerships in Kenya, green bonds in Nigeria, and capacity-building funds in Ghana, support novel energy storage solutions.[15]

Green hydrogen emerges as a transformative solution for Africa’s energy landscape, as encouraged by APET, addressing the intermittency of renewable sources such as solar and wind.  In Namibia, for example, solar energy is harnessed and converted into green hydrogen through electrolysis, highlighting its potential for efficient storage and transmission. The stored hydrogen can be utilised during peak demand periods or transported via pipelines, thus overcoming geographic limitations.[16]  Other examples are South Africa’s pilot project and Morocco’s plans for a large-scale green hydrogen plant, which exemplifies how this solution addresses energy challenges by storing surplus solar energy and reducing reliance on fossil fuels. Green hydrogen also offers an efficient means of transmitting electricity over long distances, as evident in Egypt’s exploration of a green hydrogen pipeline to Europe. Additionally, the decarbonisation aspect aligns with Africa’s commitment to combat climate change, with Kenya developing green hydrogen projects for cleaner transportation.[17]

APET urges AU policymakers and decision-makers to promote cohesive regulations, establish feed-in tariffs, and implement practices for battery recycling and waste management, fostering a sustainable future. The panel posits that tailoring these strategies to specific regional needs and conditions is imperative for success as African countries tap into the potential of next-generation batteries to overcome electricity challenges and construct a more brilliant, sustainable future. Furthermore, the realisation of green hydrogen’s potential demands substantial investments in renewables, electrolysis infrastructure, efficient storage, and transportation solutions. Additionally, it necessitates the establishment of supportive policy frameworks, active community engagement, and capacity building to guarantee fair advantages and address environmental concerns. By adopting green hydrogen, Africa can lead the way for a future marked by clean, reliable, and affordable energy, transforming its energy landscape and nurturing sustainability for future generations.[18]

In conclusion, while renewable energy, green hydrogen, and next-generation batteries offer tremendous technological promise, they present certain challenges for AU Member States, primarily centered around their economic feasibility. As a result, APET encourages Member States to prioritise the continent's vast renewable energy potential and leverage its mineral resources for fuel cell production. Countries are further encouraged to foster collaborative innovation platforms, as this is crucial for enhancing research and development of sustainable technologies, aimed to enhance countries’ competitiveness. Countries are further urged to establish infrastructure for hydrogen energy, support green hydrogen production, and create efficient facilities for storage, transportation, and refueling. Furthermore, APET encourages countries in efforts to communicate the benefits of green hydrogen and promote its use in productive sectors for its successful integration into African energy systems.


Featured Bloggers – APET Secretariat

Aggrey Ambali

Justina Dugbazah - The Sahara Institute

Barbara Glover

Bhekani Mbuli

Chifundo Kungade

Nhlawulo Shikwambane


[1] https://res4africa.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/06/Africas-Energy-Future-is-Renewables-Flagship2023.pdf


[3] https://theconversation.com/renewable-energy-will-need-more-investment-or-africa-will-stay-dependent-on-fossil-fuels-193692

[4] https://africa-energy-portal.org/blogs/assessing-impacts-electricity-pricing-poverty-reduction-africa

[5] https://www.brookings.edu/articles/addressing-africas-dual-challenges-climate-change-and-electricity-access/

[6] https://earth.org/energy-crisis-south-africa/

[7] https://www.usaid.gov/energy/mini-grids/regulation/elements/unlocking-africas-mini-grid-market

[8] https://www.nepad.org/publication/let-there-be-light-harnessing-next-generation-batteries-africas-energy-needs

[9] Morrissey, James. (2017). The energy challenge in sub-Saharan Africa: A guide for advocates and policy makers, Part 2: Addressing energy poverty. 10.13140/RG.2.2.25037.44001.

[10] https://www.afdb.org/en/news-and-events/rich-green-minerals-african-countries-eye-booming-electric-vehicle-and-clean-energy-market-worth-trillions-dollars-65241

[11] https://www.energy-storage.news/namibias-first-battery-storage-project-signifies-dedication-to-modernising-energy-infrastructure/

[12] https://www.tips.org.za/images/TIPS_Localising_vanadium_battery_production_for_South_Africas_energy_security_August_2023.pdf

[13] https://ecdpm.org/work/african-battery-value-chain-kickstart-green-industrialisation

[14] https://documents1.worldbank.org/curated/en/099235110062231022/pdf/P175150063801e0860928f00e7131b132de.pdf

[15] https://www.afdb.org/sites/default/files/aeo_2023-chap2-en.pdf

[16] https://www.controlrisks.com/our-thinking/insights/green-hydrogen-namibias-gateway-to-a-clean-energy-future

[17] https://newclimate.org/sites/default/files/2023-11/The%20landscape%20of%20green%20hydrogen%20in%20Namibia_nov2023.pdf

[18] https://www.un.org/osaa/news/green-hydrogen-%E2%80%93-viable-option-transform-africas-energy-sector