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Renewable energies for Africa

Andrea Rönsberg, ParisDecember 1, 2015

At climate conferences, developing countries tend to call for money from industrialized ones – money to help them grow without increasing greenhouse gas emissions. On Tuesday, such support was put in concrete terms.

French president Francois Hollande on the left presenting an initiative for renewable energies in Africa
Image: Reuters/P. Wojazer

Two billion euros, that's how much France wants to give to African nations over the course of the next four years. Germany says it is mobilizing three billion euros, also up until 2020. All this is earmarked for developing renewable energies in Africa, and comes as part of an endeavor by the seven biggest economic powers (G 7), initiated by the African Union.

By 2020, renewable energies are supposed to generate ten gigawatts of electricity. This is to be increased to 300 gigawatts by 2030.

"You're looking at solar projects, wind, hydropower and geothermal. These are the types of projects that will benefit from this initiative, spread all over the continent" Alex Rugamba of the African Development Bank told DW.

This is a game-changer for Africa," says Mohamed Adow, a climate activist from Kenya with the NGO 'Christian Aid'.

"Delivering 300 gigawatts of energy will not only double the amount of energy that is going to be produced in the next few years, but it will actually be coming from clean energy sources," Adow told Deutsche Welle.

Electricity key to development

More than 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are without access to electricity, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Mohamed Adow, climate activist from Kenya
Applauds the initiative as a 'game-changer': climate activist Mohamed AdowImage: DW/L.C.Matias

For Ingrid-Gabriela Hoven, Director General of the German Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development, supporting Africa in getting that access is crucial to the continent's development.

"There are many young people in Africa, but if there is no electricity, students, for instance, have no light to do their homework in the evening," Hoven said. "Also, many may seek to be self-employed, and then need electricity for example to run a sewing-machine."

Geothermal for East Africa, wind power for the West

Projects to be financed through this initative may vary according to the type of energy that is most readily available, explains Rugamba.

"East Africa has probably the biggest geothermal resources in the Rift Valley, starting from Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, down to Tanzania," Rugamba said. "In Kenya, Egypt and West Africa, we have sources of wind power. Practically the whole contintent can make use of solar energy. And hydropower projects would be mainly in Zambia, Ethiopia, Guinea, and the Democratic Republic of Congo."

solar panels in southern Nigeriea
The African continent has ideal conditions for making use of solar energyImage: Johan Demarle & Damon van der Linde

Ingrid Hoven says developing nations are right in pointing out that renewable energy technologies are costlier than traditional technologies.

"Exploring the geothermal potential in East Africa, for example, is quite expensive," says Hoven. "So one approach might be to finance exploration projects and then let the countries decide for themselves whether they want to open them up to private companies for actual use. "

Example of 'climate finance'

In the context of climate change negotiations, the initiative to support renewable energy projects in Africa is an example of what is meant by the often-used term "climate finance."

For developing nations, especially the 50 poorest countries negotiating as the Least Developed Countries (LDC) group, and those of the Africa Group, one key element of a global climate deal to be struck in Paris has to be climate finance, or financial support from industrialized to developing nations to help them grow economically without increasing emissions.

At prior climate conferences, developed countries committed to mobilizing $100 billion per year by 2020 for climate action in poor countries. But it has never been specified how this sum would be reached, and who specifically would put in what.

Positive signal for climate negotiations

Poor countries want that to be different for the period starting in 2020 when the universal climate agreement that is being negotiated in Paris is due to come into force.

For their part, industrialized countries calling for ambitious emission cuts need the developing countries on board in this endeavor.

In effect, the initiative supporting renewable energies in Africa is an example of one hand washing the other: Industrialized nations show they are financing specific projects to foster clean development in poor countries, and they for their part demonstrate a commitment to lowering greenhouse gas emissions.

"We are here in Paris discussing how we can reduce emissions and limit global warming to below two degrees," says Rugamba, "so this is a direct response of African countries to the climate change agenda."

And he adds that "this goes a long way towards facilitating an agreement."