By Sharon Atieno

The International Energy Agency estimates that Africa’s total grid-based power generation capacity in 2012 was only about 158 gigawattts (GW), which is less than total installed capacity in Germany alone. A good majority of the African population, around 600 million still lack access to energy.

The sun shines for 3,600 hours a year in Morocco, giving it one of the highest levels of solar power potential in the world. This has enabled Morocco, a country that imported 97 percent of its energy needs, to build a solar plant covering around 1.4 million square metres.

The first phase of the solar plant, Noor 1 generated enough electricity to supply 650,000 people when it was switched on in 2016. By 2020, the project that costs USD 9 billion is set to generate 580 megawatts (MW) enough electricity to power over a million homes.

Other renewable energy initiatives include: geothermal energy in Kenya, Ethiopian Grand renaissance dam (hydro) expected to produce 6000MW upon completion, Rwandan solar plant, Lake Turkana wind project in Kenya, solar power stations in South Africa among others.

Access to constant electricity is key for economic growth and reduction of poverty. Utilizing the renewable energy potentials is one of the best opportunities for growth and development for Africa given the sunny weather, plenty of wind resources, perennial rivers and arid areas among others that dominate the continent.

There are numerous national and regional programmes and initiatives supporting renewable and energy efficient solutions currently going on across some African countries. The Africa Renewable Energy Initiative (AREI) is one such continental programme.

AREI is a mandate of the African Union and aims to implement 10 GW of new and additional renewable energy generation capacity by 2020 and at least 300GW by 2030. This is in order to cover the growing energy demand and ensure universal access to sufficient, clean, appropriate and affordable energy by all Africans by 2030.

There are major obstacles that hinder large scale and widespread provision of clean energy in Africa, such as overdependence on fossil fuels, inadequate financing and inappropriate policy and regulatory frameworks.

According to Energy Sector Capacity Building Diagnostic and Needs Assessment Study of 2013 by African Development Bank (ADB), the African continent spends about USD 11.6 billion per year on developing power sector infrastructure, which is only about a quarter of the annual financing requirement, and private sector investment is urgently required to bridge the gap.

Beside the Green climate fund, Adaptation fund and other multi-lateral financial mechanisms, private sector should also explore ways of subscribing to support AREI.

There is also a need for other developed countries to support this African initiative because renewable energy infrastructure is costly to install in large scale and many African nations lack the financial capacity to undertake such initiative.

Some African countries need policy review so as to encourage investment in the energy sector including tax waiver on renewable energy equipment and removal of subsidies from fossil fuels among others.

Appropriate technology and means of implementation transfer is required as provided for by the Paris Agreement, so as to create domestic manufacturing, maintenance and project development capacity of renewable energy technologies.

Awareness and sharing more information on renewable energy and mobilizing people to accept the alternative energy is essential in achieving energy universal coverage in Africa. Governments should respond to clearly identified needs by ensuring provision of customized and modifiable energy services for their citizens.

The initiatives should also incorporate local communities and civil society organizations in decision making and development planning. This encourages ownership and increases resilience.

Space is available for the exploitation of green energy through provision of adequate climate finance, and technology investment, home-grown technology development in developing countries with assistance from developed countries among other opportunities.

Renewable energy not only provides solution to increase electricity demand but also creates a way for reduction of carbon emissions. In the process it fulfills sustainable development goal (SDG) 7, which advocates for affordable and clean energy and SDG 13 which champions for climate action.