Africa could take advantage of plummeting renewable energy costs to leapfrog the fossil fuel era and build a “predominantly clean energy future,” Fullbright scholar Alex Lenferna argues in a post on Resilience.org.
“Africa has within its reach a future that creates a homegrown, robust, clean energy economy that keeps jobs and money on the continent,” he writes. “Not only will this help prevent the harms and pollution of a fossil-fuel-intensive economy, but it can also save significant amounts of money on energy costs.”
Fossil industry advocates say a clean energy future for Africa isn’t affordable or practical. But in the International Energy Agency’s base case scenario for 2030—in which close to a billion people are left with no access to electricity—rural grid extension costs limit fossil energy to about 35% of total generation. The rest comes from renewable sources like hydro, wind, and solar.
The IEA’s Hi-Renewable Energy Scenario, which incorporates a 2°C limit on average global warming, shows Africa producing more than 80% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2050. But research led by Mark Z. Jacobson at Stanford University shows that a 100% renewable path for the continent would save US$549 per person in energy costs—or US$6,682 per person, factoring in health and climate cost savings.
“Energy poverty is primarily a problem for those living in rural areas who make up 84% of those without access,” Lenferna notes. “That makes coal even more expensive when adding the significant grid extension costs needed to access rural communities.”
But “there are multiple choices ahead for Africa thanks to the rapid rise of clean energy. Compared to the fossil-fuelled status quo, clean energy has the ability to distribute power more equitably, provide cheaper energy, more energy access, cleaner air and water, and create many more jobs.”