Africa Is Unlikely to Switch to Green Energy by 2030: Study
A new study published this week in the Nature Energy Journal has found that although 2,500 power plants are planned to be developed in Africa in the next decade, less than 10% of them will produce green energy.
The planned power plants are predicted to double electricity production on the continent by 2030, however a large number of them will be designed to use fossil fuels.
Researchers say that because of this, Africa risks being locked into high carbon energy for decades — and the study argues that a massive decarbonisation shock is needed to phase out fossil fuels on the continent.
The researchers used machine learning, or the study of computer algorithms, to analyse the factors behind the success or failure of previous power plants. They then applied this knowledge to the 2,500 planned developments.
The study suggests that by 2030, coal, oil, and gas will remain the leading sources of fuel for the generation of electricity across all 54 African countries.
Only 9.6% of electricity produced will make use of green energy, with these plants making use of renewable resources including solar, wind, and hydro energy.
Previous analyses of Africa’s energy production have predicted that the continent would easily adapt to producing green energy, in the same way it quickly welcomed communication technology — with over 90% of people across the continent having access to a mobile service. However, the latest research would suggest that this is not so.
Lead researcher on the study, Galina Alova from Oxford University, explained that their analysis was based on interpreting the chances that the power plants currently being planned and commissioned have for success by the end of this decade.
"In the next few years, we see that renewable energy power plants have, for example, lower success chances than gas and oil,” she told BBC. "We find that the success chances have been improving especially for solar, but for others like wind particularly, they're still quite modest.”
An important conclusion that the researchers made is that the size of the plant matters to the rate of its success, as they found that larger plants fail more often. The study referred to South Africa’s approach to solar energy to demonstrate this point.
"They have auctioned off a lot of quite small plants at the beginning to really get a lot of investors interested," Oxford University’s Phillip Trotter told BBC.
"As the first couple of rounds were successful, they ramped up the projects, they became a little bit larger,” he added. “And you really see this transition starting to happen in one of the most fossil fuel dominated countries on the continent."
It’s predicted that South Africa will contribute almost 40% of Africa's total new solar capacity by 2030. Unfortunately the similar success is not predicted for the rest of the continent.
In the Central African Republic and Gabon, the failure rate for all planned power plants is predicted by researchers to be over 80%.
The researchers, however, believe that things can still be turned around and there are a few factors that could assist Africa’s transition to green energy by 2030.
“The US is heavily investing in natural gas plants in Africa,” Trotter explained. “If you redirect a majority of these funds to renewables, that is when you can really kick start them. That's especially important for a technology like wind, which hasn't really taken off yet in Africa.”
While it is still possible to position Africa in favour of green energy, the researchers argue that it is up to African governments to take ownership of renewable energy projects, and action needs to be taken immediately.
"There's still time to turn it around,” Alova told BBC. “But the deeper you go into the planning and construction stages of projects, the harder it would be to turn it around at large scale. So it's really important to act really fast.”