By: Lundi Ndudane, Senior Innovation and Insights Lead, South Africa
Renewable energy accounted for about 9.5% of all global energy in 2017, a slight increase compared with the prior year, according to the 2018 World Energy Outlook published by the International Energy Agency (IEA). The renewables counted in this mix included solar, wind, geothermal, and modern biomass energy, along with traditional hydroelectric power. Due to economies of scale, and technologies like efficient solar cells and larger wind turbines, these energy sources now compete with fossil fuels. An analysis by the investment bank Lazard shows that during the past decade the “levelized” cost of electricity from wind farms (its average cost over the farm’s lifetime) has decreased by two-thirds, and from utility-scale solar farms by nearly 90%. In many places, wind and solar are now cheaper than coal and natural gas. The emergence of new renewable energy markets has meanwhile reduced operating costs. In developing countries, renewable energy mini-grids are electrifying communities, while in developed countries solar power is reducing reliance on the grid, bolstered by renewable energy credits and tax incentives.
Experts and scientists have long warned that the maximum amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has to remain stay below 450 parts per million (ppm) to avert cataclysmic climate change. The concentration surpassed 400 parts per million despite efforts to decarbonize world energy systems. The Paris Agreement on climate change aims to curtail further warming to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels while pursuing a way to limit any increase to 1.4 °C. Similarly, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7, aims to provide fair, reliable, and affordable access to sustainable and modern energy for all.
Almost 60% of Africa’s population is under the age of 25 years old, making Africa the world’s youngest continent. With population growth and urbanisation forecasted to increase at unprecedented rates, Africa is at crossroads whereby it must ensure that it maximizes its demographic dividend, the lack of access to electricity and the insecurity of access to those who have access remain major obstacles to development on the continent. Sustainable electrification is closely correlated to economic growth; however, it is important to note that sustainable economic growth is not predicated on sustainable electrification but there is no economic growth without the sustainable utilization of electricity. Population growth, the expansion of economies and the imperative of increasing grid access will render into a vast energy demand across the continent, including for industrial production and mobility. The International Energy Agency (IEA) has forecasted that the demand for fossil fuels such as oil by African countries would overtake that of industrial giant China if Africa’s energy needs are not addressed through renewable sources.
In response, African governments have introduced legislation and accompanying policy instruments towards the attainment of clean and renewable energy in a bid to fight climate change -a quicker conversion to clean energy is the most effective option for combating climate change. Choices of policy instruments along with their designs need to be designed and customised to the specific country context, whilst being cognisant of the state of available technology and the energy market as a whole, along with the country-specific developmental aims that can be met.
A perfect example of an enabling policy framework is that of Rwanda, who through its National Energy Strategy seeks to combine integrative and enabling policies whilst aiming to alter consumer behaviour. Rwanda’s strategy pushes for the diversification of energy sources but also advocates for the efficient use of energy to avoid energy wastage. This is evidenced by conducting energy audits on industries and grid extension. Rwanda utilizes instruments such as biofuel blending in the transport sector in the short term but also utilises long term strategies such capacity building programmes with a strong focus of capacitating female expertise in the renewable energy technology.
The policy responses however admirable have to be far seeing and cognisant of potential unintended consequences. For instance, Africa is the largest market for second hand cars – the United Nations Environment Program notes that western countries are using low-income countries as dumping grounds for their second-hand cars. Only Sudan, Egypt and South Africa have banned the importation of banned cars. With the phasing out of the internal combustion vehicles it is likely vehicles will be dumped in Africa’s second-hand market. Should this happen, the fight against climate change will be stalled as Africa will experience further pollution.
Countries such as South Africa, Zambia and Democratic Republic of the Congo will supply raw materials to support EV market. It is imperative that countries that are supplying the EV market beneficiate the mining process by localizing components of the manufacturing process. It is very important to safeguard the mining process from illicit elements who would seek to use child labour and unfair labour practises.
- The International Energy Agency, 2018, World Energy Outlook 2017: A world in transformation. View date -19 May 2021. https://iea.blob.core.windows.net/assets/4a50d774-5e8c-457e-bcc9-513357f9b2fb/World_Energy_Outlook_2017.pdf
- Ministry of Infrastructure of Republic of Rwanda, National Energy Policy and National Energy Strategy 2008–2012, (2009). View date- 25.05.2021; Available from: http://www.euei pdf.org/sites/default/files/field_publication_file/EUEI_PDF_Rwanda_Energy_Policy_2008-2012_Final_Jan_2009_EN.pdf
- United Nations Environment Programme (2020) Global Trade in Used Vehicles Report. United Nations. (Accessed: 20 May 2021)
- Odhiambo E (2021) ‘Africa should develop its own electric vehicle agenda’. 3 May 2021. Available at https://www.aljazeera.com/opinions/2021/5/3/africa-should-develop-its-own-electric-vehicle-agenda (Accessed: 18 May 2021).