A look into China-Africa solar energy technologies’ existing linkage

The most popular source of renewable energy, solar energy, has become more widely used around the world, particularly as a result of significant advancements in usage between China and Africa. In comparison to other regions, Africa has the highest percentage of its population using off-grid solar energy, and since 2011, the percentage of the entire population using off-grid solar energy has nearly quadrupled. Currently, it is estimated that 60 million people in Africa rely on off-grid solar energy for their electricity needs.

However, in a recent interview, Ajay Mathur, director general of the International Solar Alliance (ISA), underscored China’s commitment and enormous potential in achieving Africa’s goal of developing solar energy.

He urged international companies to concentrate on off-grid photovoltaic power station projects in Africa so that people living in rural and isolated areas of the continent might have access to light by pointing out that the worldwide experience in the construction of solar mini-grids is limited, though noting that “China is the largest supplier of solar energy equipment across the world and in Africa in particular.”

The director general, however, further claimed that the African continent is endowed with boundless possibilities for renewable energy, including an abundance of solar energy.

What is new?

It is realized that there are financial constraints facing Africa despite its high technological potential. For the accelerated adoption of solar systems, the director general of the International Solar Alliance (ISA), Ajay Mathur, said, “We are working towards mobilizing 1 trillion U.S. dollars of investment for a massive deployment of solar energy technologies and expanding solar markets in the continent.”

The discussion was spurred by the Fourth Regional Committee Meeting for the Africa Region of the International Solar Alliance, which was hosted in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, from August 29-31, 2022. The meeting, according to reports, is ISA’s first physical meeting in the region and was organised in partnership with the Ministry of Water and Energy of Ethiopia.

The Director General of ISA and ministers from Ethiopia, Central African Republic, Guinea, Ghana, Mali, Guinea-Bissau, Comoros, and Somalia were present during the meeting, and there were in-depth discussions on past progress and accomplishments as well as upcoming initiatives, such as ISA’s five-year strategic plan, private sector engagement strategy, and the STAR-C project to create capacity.

China, however, is the frontrunner in terms of combining technology with Africa. For example, Sultan Wali, the state minister for energy in Ethiopia, claimed that China Electric Power Equipment and Technology Co., Ltd. is implementing 25 solar energy projects throughout the country with assistance from the World Bank. Also, Chinese businesses have reportedly embarked on off-grid photovoltaic (PV) power station projects in “the country’s Somali and Gambella regional states, eventually helping thousands of people get access to electricity.”

“The involvement of China in renewable energy development in Ethiopia is very large. “Ethiopia is using Chinese technology and manpower to develop its renewable energy resources,” Wali revealed.

In sub-Saharan Africa, Chinese investments in renewable energy are rising quickly. Important projects are planned to help light up broad portions of the continent while addressing climate change. China has implemented hundreds of clean energy and green development projects in Africa, assisting the continent’s efforts to combat climate change. These projects range from the Sakai photovoltaic power station in the Central African Republic and the Garissa solar plant in Kenya to the Aysha wind power project in Ethiopia and the Kafue Gorge hydroelectric station in Zambia.

These initiatives are considered essential because climate change is making a new wave—to the extent that the current global heat wave has affected portions of North Africa and a drought is wreaking havoc in the Horn of Africa.

The ISA meeting, albeit, made it clear that Africa can progress toward providing power to 600 million people while supporting economic growth, jobs, and a safe and healthy environment in the region with appropriate interventions, structured strategies, and support from the leadership. However, the meeting leaves many researchers with questions about whether the initiatives will be successful or if they are simply rehashing old stories.

Will these initiatives remain paper work?

In the past, there have been a series of discussions on climate change with a focus on renewable energy. But to what extent will those discussions yield, or at what point can Africa and China effectively collaborate? At this point, it is critical that to increase the quality of solar investments, major investors should race to the top to have a healthy environment.

In many parts of Africa, access to power remains a major issue that negatively affects both quality of life and growth potential. It is estimated that over the next 20 years, Africa will require investments totaling over US$2 trillion in dependable, affordable, and sustainable electricity infrastructure. Though China has been Africa’s main source of investment in energy infrastructure thus far this century, other developed nations in the West are showing keen interest in re-engaging in energy infrastructure development with other countries.

It is important to note that solar energy infrastructure investment value cannot be over-emphasized as it is useful in coordinating and advancing the development of Africa. Thus, African governments should start to actively support renewable energy sources, especially for solar projects, because “China’s enterprises operating in the African energy sector have undergone a steep and impressive learning curve.”

Beyond hosting webinars and events to discuss potential prospects and difficulties, new initiatives regarding this subject matter should include collaboration with African leaders, African investors, and African tech-savvies. With this, it is believed China will be more involved in renewable energy, and Africa will not lag behind either.

According to the research, there is an urgent need to develop novel ways to finance renewable energy projects; Chinese financiers need to investigate blended finance and public-private partnerships more thoroughly. On the part of African governments, there is potential for them, albeit regional economic communities need to integrate their power sector markets, which might increase project viability and profitability and therefore draw in more investment.

Africa Explores Solar Opportunities

The reasons and advantages for the use of solar energy in Africa are extensive, ranging from financial, environmental, or personal aspects. Although there are numerous benefits to solar energy for households in Africa, lowering energy expenses and protecting the environment rank at the top. Solar energy is widely recognized as a fantastic home efficiency improvement, and many Africans are keen to lower their carbon footprint while simultaneously increasing the value of their properties.

Many African nations have the chance to forego traditional fuels and instead focus on developing sustainable energy systems, but they will require cooperation from the international community, particularly to entice the necessary investments. With one-sixth of the world’s population, Africa is already one of the geographical areas most impacted by climate change. However, it only makes up 2% of total global emissions and less than 6% of global energy use.

Hence, to spur economic growth and advance sustainable development goals, Africa must simultaneously expand access to solar energy to the hundreds of millions who are not using it. Nevertheless, Africa can take the lead in this process while the world’s energy systems change to a net zero future. The continent’s geographic variety offers tremendous solar and wind energy prospects.

Many African companies are emerging to offer energy solutions and innovative services that will improve the lives of the members of African communities. It is pertinent to note that a lot of companies are prioritizing the use of solar energy because they are fast recognizing the social and economic advantages of utilizing solar energy. Companies that care about their surroundings and communities will surely have higher levels of morale.

The morale cannot be farfetched because energy access continues to be one of Africa’s biggest problems. Numerous businesses have been forced to close due to inconsistent, unreliable, and, in some cases, unachievable electricity supplies, which have to some extent weakened the economies. Thus, solar firms in Africa are emerging to develop a variety of ideas to address this issue and provide clean electricity to millions of disadvantaged people throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. The expansion of solar businesses across Africa makes a significant economic contribution and encourages eco-friendly living.

Some countries top the usage of solar energy in Africa. According to Statista, as of 2021, South Africa had Africa’s highest solar energy capacity, with over six gigawatts. This represented approximately 54.6 percent of Africa’s annual solar energy capacity. At 1.7 gigawatts, Egypt had the second-largest capacity. Morocco came next, with a solar energy capacity of 774 megawatts.

Despite these advancements, most people still lack access to electricity—and the effect is reflected in rural communities or remote parts of Africa. Though notably, Africa’s population has increased significantly over the past few decades, which seems to be having an impact on the efforts to provide solar energy to a considerable portion of the country, despite falling behind, Africa is catching up in terms of having access to renewable energy.

By and large, to accelerate the progress made regarding solar energy in Africa, there is a need to bridge the funding gap and adopt new technologies as a sure way to solve the continent’s electricity deficit. This way, Africa will continue exploring solar energy opportunities more than expected.

Educator, writer and legal researcher at Alafarika for Studies and Consultancy.

Similar Topics