Renewable Energy – A Solution to Africa’s Electricity Problems?

Growing up in the urban area, our household was privileged to have access to basic amenities, such as roads, running water and electricity. Electricity in particular, was quite principal in my civilization. While they say that necessity is the mother of all inventions, I say that electricity is the mother of all inventions. Nikola Tesla once said, “If your hate could be turned into electricity, it would light up the whole world.” Think about that for a minute. Despite it’s great importance in our lives, very few people would probably stop to think about what life would be without electricity.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) estimates that One in seven people still lacks electricity, and most of them live in the rural areas in the developing economies. On a large scale, about 600 million households in sub-Saharan Africa live without access to electricity. Over and above that, The World Bank has declared 32 out of the 46 states to be in an energy crisis. An energy crisis is a situation in which a country experiences rolling blackouts as supply falls short of demand. South Africa is currently experiencing its worst energy crisis where the national electricity utility company – Eskom is unable to provide around 13,000 megawatts of its total capacity of 44,000 megawatts. This has resulted into load-shedding whereby the electricity system is cut off in various parts to prevent the failure of the entire system once an imbalance occurs. Our continued over-reliance on non-renewable sources of energy make such scenarios a distinct possibility in a matter of time.

We all concur that renewable energy is a “low-hanging fruit” that could save us from the current energy crisis we face. However, plucking this low-hanging fruit is much harder and difficult than it seems. Often, one central reason that is attributed to this is the cost factor. For instance, in Kenya, the minimum amount of money one can spend on electricity bill is approximately Kshs. 500 (USD 4.63). This figure, however, is dependent on the number of electrical appliances one has but it is commensurate to what one would consume for domestic use. On the other end, the minimum amount of money one can spend to set-up a solar system is about Kshs. 50,000 (USD 463). This would comprise of a single solar panel capable of lighting three bulbs, a television and radio for up to 10 hours. Households looking to install solar solutions capable of powering a refrigerator, computer, 10 bulbs, television and water heater would spend a minimum of Kshs. 450,000 (USD 4,164). While this might be a huge expense to incur initially, ultimately the biggest expense is the opportunity cost in the future.

Photo by Karsten Würth on Unsplash

Getting through this hurdle would be difficult, especially for people living in the rural areas, but there is a silver lining in this cloud. The renewable energy market in Africa is beginning to receive more and more attention from all around the world. Renewable energy investments are on the rise. Data from Bloomberg NEF indicate that investments in clean energy in sub-Saharan Africa jumped to USD 7.4 Billion in 2018, from USD 2.3 Billion in 2017. Additionally, various companies are coming up with innovative solutions that involve the use of tech to provide efficient and renewable energy to users at affordable costs. For instance, Kenyan-based company MKOPA provides a Pay-As-You-Go solar system that comprises of two lightbulbs, a mobile phone charger and a radio. Consumers would pay Kshs. 40 (USD 0.37) a day for a period of one year after making a deposit of Kshs. 2,500 (USD 23.15) in order for them to fully own the product. The company has so far connected at least 500,000 households, and is looking to add more services such as internet access into its product offerings. The goal of all these is to ensure universal access to affordable, reliable and modern energy by increasing investments in solar, wind, hydro and thermal energy sources. 

John F. Kennedy once said, “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country”. While governments and states have the sole responsibility of ensuring that every single household is connected to electricity, we as individuals have a mandate to conserve our energy consumption levels. This can be as simple as turning off lights or appliances when you don’t need them, unplugging appliances when not in use and using energy efficient bulbs and appliances. You will not only be gaining control of your electricity bill, but also reducing the demand on the earth’s natural resources.