When it comes to electric power, Africa is still a continent in the dark. More than half of its 1.1 billion inhabitants lack access to electricity, and Africa’s total generating capacity, from Cairo to Cape Town, is only 160 gigawatts, or about half as much as Japan, a country with one-tenth of its population.
Against that backdrop, the plan unveiled this week by the African Union and African Development Bank is remarkably ambitious. Officials from the two organizations announced a goal of delivering at least 300 gigawatts—300 billion watts—of electricity-generating capacity to the continent by 2030, all from clean or renewable energy.
Put another way, in just 15 years Africa would be producing twice as much electricity from solar panels, wind farms, geothermal plants and hydropower than it currently generates from all sources combined.
“Our sunshine should do more than nourish our crops, it must light up our homes,” African Development Bank President Akinwumi A. Adesina said Tuesday at the formal launch of the Africa Renewable Energy Initiative, which was announced during the international climate talks in Paris. “Our massive water resources should do more than water our farms, they must power our industries.”
Citing the continent’s “massive potentials” for renewable energy, Adesina said the plan would “renew Africa and turn it into a place full of light,” while offering the benefits of electric power to nearly 700 million people who lack it.
For a sense of the project’s ambitious scale, consider that China, the world’s leader in renewables, has a generating capacity of about 380 gigawatts, mostly from wind farms and hydropower. African nations would seek to build nearly as much capacity in less than two decades.
Bank officials said the huge undertaking was possible in part because of commitments from a $100 billion annual fund pledged by wealthy countries to fight climate change. The World Bank Group has pledged $16 billion to pay for low-carbon energy development for the continent, and France and Germany have promised billions of dollars for clean energy.
By funding clean-energy projects, the initiative would hasten the delivery of electric power to impoverished areas while allowing many African states to jump directly to advanced clean-energy technology rather than building power plants that burn fossil fuels, backers of the project said. At the same time, the projects will help reduce emissions of greenhouse-gas pollutants blamed for climate change.
World Bank Group President Jim Yong Ki, in announcing new funding for African energy projects last week, described sub-Saharan Africa as “highly vulnerable to climate shocks,” with potential impacts ranging from increases in malaria epidemics to famine.
Adesina, in announcing the initiative, suggested that Western countries were morally obligated to help finance the continent’s energy transition, noting that Africa emits less carbon pollution than the rest of the world while also bearing the brunt of the impacts of climate change.
“Africa suffers more from the scorching heat from rising temperatures, he said. “Droughts are now more frequent and with greater intensity than ever before.”
Adding 300 gigawatts of clean-energy capacity in 15 years will require martialing resources on an unprecedented scale, but Adesina said he believed the target could be met and even exceeded.
“We must not have low ambitions for Africa,” he said.