The road to a stronger clean energy sector in Africa

The road to a stronger clean energy sector in Africa

Kevin Urama, Executive Director of the African Technology Policy Studies Network reviews the achievements of three CDKN supported clean energy projects and what still needs to be done.

Estimates show that the African continent has considerable potential for renewable energies: 1,750 TWh in hydropower, 14,000 megawatts in geothermal and solar power estimated to be equivalent to 90-100 million tons of oil per annum. Yet market penetration of renewable energy and clean technologies in many African countries remains low.

Kevin Urama undertook a review of three CDKN supported projects: Lighting Africa Programme, Africa Clean Cooking Energy Solutions Initiative (ACCES), and the Pro-poor, low carbon development: Improving low carbon energy access and development benefits in LDCs project. The three projects aimed to promote greater access to clean, low carbon energy in Africa. This is a summary of his findings on the learning outcomes achieved by each.

The Lighting Africa Programme

Lighting Africa resulted in significantly increased consumer awareness of the Nigerian solar market among stakeholders which was very limited if not non-existent prior to the intervention of the project. Lighting Africa provided alternative lighting solutions and their costs as well as the market potentials, level of consumer willingness and ability to pay for service products, and key drivers in the sector.

The Lighting Africa website has become the top online resource for the industry providing veritable information across stakeholder categories in the sector that have helped them achieve their varied objectives in low carbon energy access.

Through these projects stakeholders in the solar home systems are now able to install new solar photovoltaics in remote areas as well as conduct maintenance operations on them as required. This skill change has led to the installation of over 320,000 systems and 100,000 solar portable lights in households and institutions in Kenya.

Through the intervention of Lighting Africa, a dozen manufacturers now produce lanterns and mini-solar home systems with an end-consumer price of about US$15. The market is characterised by rapid overall (>50%) annual sales growth and even more rapid growth in quality product sales by market leaders.

The transfer of technology on solar technology has also led to the springing up of companies such as Energy Alternatives Africa, Chloride Exide, Solar World East African Limited, Kenital Solar Limited, and Ubbink East Africa Limited. Some of these independent power producers generate renewable energy and sell electricity in bulk to national electricity companies such as the Kenya Power and Lighting Company. As of 2011, energy from such sources accounted for about 26% of Kenya’s installed capacity and plays an important role in bridging the demand gap.

Recently, a major factor driving the attitudinal change and demand for solar home systems has been the rapid spread of mobile phones across the countries and the need to recharge them. Stakeholders’ attitudinal change from the usual ‘wait for national grid electricity’ to procuring an alternative energy source served as a major enabler for the solar niche market.

The geographic footprint of quality solar home systems and pico-solar (compact and lightweight solar chargers) has increased, growing from 5 to more than 10 African countries for Lighting Africa-approved products. Similarly, government interests in the market have increased across the continent and off-grid products; in particular the solar lanterns have drawn increased interest from donors and impact investors.

Africa Clean Cooking Energy Solutions Initiative (ACCES)

ACCES resulted in stakeholders becoming more aware of clean cooking technology and potential markets in the respective countries. The stoves were classified into different categories in individual countries depending on the materials used to make them and the source of energy- charcoal, firewood, or biomass. This determined the price for the different stoves. Equipped with this knowledge, the consumer is better placed to buy a stove that suits his or her own needs and financial ability.

Information and data generated from the ACCES project in the pilot countries has been invaluable to policy makers, governments and other key stakeholders in decision-making and investments.

Through the ACCES intervention, artisans in Uganda were taught how to make the stoves using available raw materials while consumers were taught how to maintain the cook stoves and the best sources of fuel to use. In this way the capabilities of local manufacturers and consumers were developed and sustained.

An established regional quality assurance support system to guide both testing and enhancements in technical performance of cooking technologies was established by stakeholders in the region. Manufacturers have also benefitted from these tests and standards.

The high level of consumer awareness of the ACCES project on clean stoves has offered alternative energy choices for consumers. Women in Uganda for instance have been able to influence and convince their husbands – who take income decisions in the family – to purchase the stoves for domestic use. Having realised the savings on fuel and medical care in their households, more and more men are adopting this environmentally friendly technology.

Pro-poor, low carbon development: Improving low carbon energy access and development benefits in LDCs

This research aimed to enrich understanding on the relative successful adoption of solar home systems in Kenya to inform the design of Climate Innovation Centres and policy initiatives that facilitate the transfer and uptake of low carbon technologies in Kenya and other LDCs. It developed a detailed picture of the full spectrum of actors together with institutional frameworks and events that assisted the uptake of this technology in Kenya. The innovation histories framework, which was designed to draw on experiences from past innovation processes to identify key actors and events, adopted by the Pro poor, low carbon project enabled key actors who participated in the project to develop a detailed history of the development of the market for solar home systems and other off-grid solar electrical services in Kenya.

The outcomes from the low carbon development project are expected to inform the implementation of activities of the Climate Innovation Centre in Kenya in trying to promote climate-smart technologies. The centre provides holistic, country-driven support to accelerate the development, deployment and transfer of locally relevant climate and clean energy technologies. The initiative, supported by the World Bank’s infoDev, is the first in a global network being launched by infoDev’s Climate Technology Program. Funded by DFID and the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Kenya Climate Innovation Centre will be seeded by contributions of US$15 million over five years and is expected to support up to 70 sustainable climate technology ventures in the first five years, and is set out to generate 4,600 direct and over 24,000 jobs in total within ten years.

The way forward

The clean energy projects have no doubt made significant contributions to improving the adoption rates of renewable energy technologies in the countries where they were implemented. While the wider social, economic and environmental benefits of these interventions cannot be denied, the implications of these technologies for systemic improvements in the energy systems and infrastructures, as well as the wider co-benefits and spill over effects on sustainable development in the target countries require further research.

Many technical, institutional and social challenges and costs of integrating these renewable energy technologies into the existing energy systems and markets in African countries remain unaddressed.

A comprehensive assessment of the socio-economic and environmental impacts of renewable technologies in the context of predominantly fossil fuel based economies of many African countries is still needed. While we have made considerable strides, there is still much work to be done.

For more information visit the CDKN project pages:


Image courtesy of Panos

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