Renewable Energy: the core of the commitment to Africa’s green transformation

Africa’s clean energy transition is more important than ever, and renewable energy is its key ingredient. It is vital that the world stays focused on the climate and energy future of this continent.

Much has changed in a decade. When we set out to create RES4Africa 10 years ago, renewable energy technologies were still in their infancy, net-zero targets were a far-off dream, and sustainable energy was seen as an unsustainable investment. In just over a decade, renewable energy has been universally deployed and has become a cost-efficient and credible strategy for sustainable development worldwide. It has also become a convincing key ingredient and valuable investment opportunity for growth, with the potential to become the centrepiece for Africa’s economic and social development.

Rarely has Africa’s energy transition been so important as now. Covid-19 is leaving its marks on the continent, and the physical impacts of climate change have become more apparent than ever. The road ahead for a decade of action is clear, guided by the UN Agenda 2030, with the ambition to build back better. Meanwhile the Renewable Energy transition has taken on global urgency, and Africa’s renewable energy future will be crucial. Sustainable energy technologies have the potential to support Africa in solving this challenge and allow its economy to leapfrog to a prosperous and sustainable future.

Climate action and economic development are no longer trade-offs, they are compatible. Access to energy is fundamental to reduce poverty, accelerate socio-economic transformation and promote economic growth. Renewable energy can alleviate many issues that Africans face every day. Scaling up access to renewable energy – from large-scale power plants to mini-grids and decentralised solutions – embeds valuable benefits enabling poverty reduction, environmental protection, climate mitigation and adaptation, improves sustainability of rural areas and cities, but also facilitates access to health, education and digitalisation, whilst creating opportunities for entrepreneurship, empowering women and improving lives. The expansion of Africa’s - Renewable Energy sector will create millions of new jobs and closing the energy access gap in a sustainable way will help end energy poverty. This is why achieving SDG7 is instrumental to accomplishing the entire United Nations Sustainable Development Agenda.

From the convergence of these challenges emerges a clear need for Africa’s just and inclusive energy transition. This means no one should be left behind on opportunities embedded within the development of sustainable technologies but also that countries and communities relying on unsustainable energy resources need to be supporting in transitioning towards new economic opportunities and systems.

Although there is no single path or silver bullet solution for succeeding in the sustainable transformation of Africa’s 54 countries, there can be no doubt that clean energy technologies and renewable energy can be the protagonists of each pathway. These technologies already offer the most competitive, reliable, and sustainable option to generate and supply electricity to all of Africa. Their decentralised and scalable nature make them the best technologies to solve energy access challenges for both rural livelihoods and the fast-growing cities and urbanites in Africa’s megacities of today and tomorrow.

A set of other technologies will also be needed to ensure a smooth and successful energy transition in Africa. First, the extension, reinforcement, and digitalisation of grids are indispensable for the expansion of access to electricity, the improvement of service quality, and the enhancement of economic and industrial activities. Second, electricity storage solutions will be needed to increase system flexibility. Third, electrification of energy end uses must progress towards the deployment of electric heating and cooling systems, electric transport, and, last but not least, electric cooking.

It is clear to see that over the past 10 years, as RES4Africa grew in members, partners, countries and expertise, the Foundation has made a tremendous effort in tackling challenges while adapting to overcome new ones. The lessons we draw from the past 10 years will make RES4Africa ready for tomorrow. A key lesson has been the power of collaboration and public-private partnerships. There is a shared intent and common goal between institutions, countries, and Renewable Energy players that are eager to invest. A strong cooperation between the public and private sectors, businesses and institutions is required. International cooperation and effective public private partnerships represent the only path to success. These collaborations will also aid the mobilisation of the required financial resources to support the investment effort. This report aims to set joint priorities based on shared intent and common goals between African and international institutions, as well as renewable industry players in successfully advancing the sustainable transition of Africa’s economies and building the road towards sustainable, resilient prosperity for all.

Most importantly, as the world embarks on its energy transition, it is vital that achieving Africa’s clean energy transition remains a priority. African countries will make important decisions about their energy future, and we can help. On the road to COP27 in Egypt later this year, it is vital the focus is on investments to make real projects and real change happen. The remarkable pace of a just and inclusive transformation in Africa’s energy sector can create unprecedented opportunities for inclusive growth and for a resilient Africa. We have the knowledge, tools and opportunity today to make this happen.

Francesco Starace, President of Enel Foundation, Chairman of SEforAll, & CEO of Enel Group

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Africa is a continent in continuous transformation, with a sustained economic and population growth, a fast-paced urbanization and a young generation of talents who is leading its business revolution. This transformation requires energy and will require it even more in the next decades.
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