Untapping East Africa’s renewable energy potential is key to unlock a brighter future

In recent years, East Africa has been increasingly recognized as a region ripe for renewable energy development. As the world grapples with the challenges posed by climate change and seeks to transition away from fossil fuels, countries in East Africa have been actively harnessing their abundant renewable resources to meet growing energy demands sustainably.

In the last decade, countries like Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and Rwanda have been at the forefront of solar and wind power development. Large-scale solar projects, including utility-scale solar parks and off-grid solar installations, continue to proliferate across the region; on this regard the Lake Turkana Wind Power project in Kenya, one of the largest wind farms in Africa, stands as a testament to the region's wind energy ambitions.

The area boasts an impressive annual average solar irradiation of 2100 kWh/m2 and moderate wind speeds, typically hovering around 5.5 m/s but capable of reaching up to 8 m/s. East Africa stands out as home to some of the most promising zones for solar photovoltaic energy, particularly in Ethiopia, Uganda, and Tanzania, and for wind energy, particularly in Kenya. With only 1% utilization of suitable land for energy project development, the technically installable capacities stand at 1.067 gigawatts for solar power and 47,2 gigawatts for wind power. Moreover, Ethiopia offers significant potential for large-scale hydropower projects, while the region is currently using less than 5% of its geothermal capacity, mostly in Kenya and Ethiopia.

Off-grid solar solutions, particularly solar home systems and mini-grids, have gained significant traction, providing electricity access to rural and remote communities where grid extension is economically unfeasible. Innovative financing mechanisms, such as pay-as-you-go (PAYG) models, have enabled households with limited incomes to afford solar energy systems.

Governments in East Africa have been implementing various policies and regulations to promote renewable energy development and attract investment. Feed-in tariffs, tax incentives, and renewable energy targets are among the measures adopted to create an enabling environment for renewable energy deployment, aiming to harmonise policies and facilitate cross-border collaboration in the energy sector. However, challenges remain, including bureaucratic hurdles, inadequate grid infrastructure, and financing constraints. Addressing these challenges requires concerted efforts from governments, development partners, and the private sector to unlock the full potential of renewable energy in East Africa.

Clean energy could create about 26 million jobs in Africa by 2050. Innovative enterprises, along with their unique business models, are spearheading the advancement and broadening of renewable energy production and distribution in East Africa. Although East Africa possesses a wide array of renewable energy resources and an enormous potential for young Innovators, merely 4% of incoming greenfield foreign direct investment (FDI) during 2017-22 was allocated to renewable energy projects in the region. In contrast, Africa as a whole received 17% of such investments towards renewable energy initiatives.

The renewable energy landscape in East Africa is poised for continued growth and innovation in the coming years. Rapid urbanization, population growth, and increasing energy demand present both challenges and opportunities for scaling up renewable energy deployment. With the right mix of policies, investments, and partnerships, East Africa has the potential to become a renewable energy powerhouse, driving economic prosperity while mitigating the impacts of climate change.

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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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