Feature Report: Africas's Energy Challenges

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Is Africa the Continent of the Future?

Experts unanimously agree that after years of fairly slow development Africa is now undergoing rapid growth. The pundits, however, are divided into two categories: the Afro-optimists, who believe that Africa is set to become the continent of the future, and the Afro-pessimists, who believe that poverty-related tensions will only get worse. But thanks to Africa's bright energy prospects, particularly in the field of solar electrification, the scales could tip in favor of the optimists. A few key issues are described below.

Marketplace in Jimma, Ethiopia
One out of every four people on Earth will live in Africa in 2050 – a challenging situation, but one that offers fantastic potential. Here we see a marketplace in Jimma, Ethiopia. ©Thinkstock

Africa Drives World Population Growth

The number of inhabitants in a country, or a group of countries, continues to be a factor of powerIn physics, power is the amount of energy supplied by a system per unit time. In simpler terms, power can be viewed as energy output... . China is a prime example. Africa currently has a population of nearly 1.2 billion people, or 16% of the world total, a figure that is expected to double by 2050, bringing Africa's share of the global population to 25%. The child population will experience significant growth. By 2050, 40% of all children under five will live in Africa, according to a UNICEF report1. Nigeria alone will account for 10% of all births in the world. On the negative side, the rural exodus and city/country imbalance resulting from the demographic boom will pose a threat to agriculture and food resources.

Low Consumption of Energy But Rapidly Rising Needs 

Over 600 million people, i.e. two out of three Africans, still do not have access to modern energy sources. Excluding South Africa, sub-Saharan Africa's per-capita power consumption averages 162 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year, compared to a global average of around 7,000 kWh. Africa accounted for less than 4% of global greenhouse gas (ghg) Gas with physical properties that cause the Earth's atmosphere to warm up. There are a number of naturally occurring greenhouse gases... emissions in 2015. But will the continent be able to pursue a sustainable, low-carbon growth strategy at a time of skyrocketing energy needs due to economic, demographic and urban growth?

Leapfrogging is the process of jumping over intermediate stages of development to move to an advanced technological state.

A Wealth of Energy Potential  

Africa has considerable energy resources, including 8% of the world's oil reserves, 7% of its natural gas reserves, 4% of its coalCoal is ranked by its degree of transformation or maturity, increasing in carbon content from... reserves, 10% of its hydropower potential, 17% of its uraniumGray, very dense radioactive metal that is relatively abundant in the Earth's crust and oceans in the form of UO2... reserves, 15% of its geothermalDescribes the technology used to tap subsurface heat to produce energy... potential, 38% of its wind energyEnergy derived from the wind. Wind power involves converting the kinetic energy of moving air (wind) into electricity. resources and an average of 300 days of sunshine per year (figures presented at the 2015 Energy Trilemma Summit in Addis Ababa2). See Close-Up: A Rich and Varied Energy Potential 

Is A Direct Pathway to a Low-Carbon Economy Possible? 

Owing to the continent's vast renewable energyEnergy sources that are naturally replenished so quickly that they can be considered inexhaustible on a human time scale... potential, as well as global awareness of the need to address climate change, some experts believe that Africa will not have to follow the same energy path as the industrialized world and will be able to transition directly to a low-carbon economy. According to estimates presented in early 2016 by Akinwumi Adeesina, President of the African Development Bank (AfDB), African energy production from renewable energy sources would break down as follows: solar (11,000 gigawatts - GW); hydroelectric (350 GW); wind (110 GW) and geothermal (15 GW)3.

25%: Africa's share of the global population by 2050 

Declining Raw Material Prices

Despite having an abundance of natural resources, Africa cannot rely on them alone to fuelFuel is any solid, liquid or gaseous substance or material that can be combined with an oxidant... its economic growth. Apart from oil, which fell to less than $30 a barrelUnit of volume measurement for crude oil that is equivalent to approximately 159 liters (0.159 cubic meters)... in January 2016 from over $100 a barrel in mid-2014, many ore resources (gold, brass, manganese, phosphates) and plant-based products (oilseeds, coffee, cotton) have also experienced price declines. The main reason is the slowdown in growth, particularly in China, one of the biggest purchasers of African mineral resources. The fall in prices presents both a risk – less income and therefore fewer domestic investments – and an opportunity – a chance to diversify the economy and integrate the global value chain and therefore attract external investments.


Many economists believe that Africa will be able to leapfrog to advanced technologies without having to follow the path traditionally taken by industrialized countries. Take, for example, the telephone. Africa has bypassed traditional landline technology and gone directly to mobile phone use, which is expanding rapidly (nearly 500 million users out of 1.2 billion inhabitants). In the same way, Africa could significantly speed the electrification of the continent by leapfrogging to distributed (decentralized) solar generation, while reducing the need to build power distribution grids connected to each village. See Close-Up: Electrification: Hopes for a Solar Revolution 


Sources :

(1) UNICEF report

(2) World Energy Council 

(3) Interview in Jeune Afrique – Ils feront l'Afrique en 2016 – Special issue No. 4