Energy Capital & Power

Renewable Races: The African Countries Leading the Way to a More Sustainable Future

Connect with us:

Image: hrui/Shutterstock

According to the World Bank, one in three people lack access to electricity in Africa, of which 87% live in rural areas. Efforts to improve these figures have been initiated through the exploration and development of renewable energies throughout the continent. These developments, boosted by government incentives in combination with global environmental initiatives, aim to utilize unexploited renewable energy resources throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Subsequently, through the implementation of various renewable energy strategies, stakeholders have sought to meet intracontinental, decentralized rural energy demands.

While the investment and utilization of renewable energies has the potential to reshape African economies, African countries are only recently unlocking their vast renewable resources. According to a report by the International Energy Agency (IEA), a mere 10% of sub-Saharan’s hydropower potential is currently being exploited, justifying the opportunity for investment and development in the sector.


South Africa’s climate and geographic location offer an abundance of renewable resources upon which to build a successful renewables program. The launch of the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement program in 2011 has attracted significant international investment while driving down the capital costs of renewable energy over time. Solar is the most readily accessible resource in the country, which records more than 2,500 hours of sunshine per year, and is expected to reach 8,400MW of installed capacity by 2030. The country possesses several projects including ACWA Power’s Redstone Solar Thermal Power plant, a 100MW molten salt energy solar plant located in South Africa’s Northern Cape Province, and the Khi Solar One concentrated solar power plant.

The country also has wind potential, with coastal regions warranting the highest wind speeds. Four new renewable energy power plant projects for South Africa, including two wind power plants in Golden Valley and Excelsior, have received support totaling $116 million from the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency, a subsidiary of the World Bank Group that recently released the guarantees. The future plants, with a combined installed capacity of 288MW, will be constructed and developed by the energy company BioTherm Energy and contribute to overall renewable objectives within the country.

Furthermore, biomass is currently the largest renewable energy contributor in South Africa. The potential for biomass-generated electricity in the region is estimated at 9,500MW, based on agricultural waste alone. Projects such as the 25MW Ngodwana Energy Biomass Project renew investor confidence in the country, and act as a catalyst for energy transition in South Africa.

Additionally, South Africa is one of the countries with the highest installed capacity of hydropower. Current potential hydropower resources in the region amount to an estimated 41,000 MW. Installed hydropower capacity is just under 12,000MW, representing about 21.5% of total electricity capacity of which 97.6% is large-scale hydropower. Projects including the Steenbras Power Station in the Western Cape, Vanderkloof Dam in the Northern Cape and Ncora Dam Ncora Power Station in the Eastern Cape are all major contributors to South Africa’s renewable energy capacity.


Kenya displays abundant potential in solar, hydro, wind, biomass and geothermal resources in which exploration has been boosted countrywide. Specifically, in the Rift Valley, geothermal production is currently between 690-745MW, but has the potential to generate up to 10,000MW. Existing geothermal plants include the Olkaria Geothermal Power Station, which boasts an installed capacity of 185MW. Accordingly, Kenya is the largest geothermal producer in Africa.

Additionally, developments in solar through the Garissa Solar Power Station have contributed to the government’s target of installing an additional 500MW and 300,000 domestic solar systems by 2030. In 2019, Kenya brought online the Garissa 50MW solar plant, which resulted in renewable energy making up more than 85% of the power mix within the country. Subsequently, the solar plant, built by the state-run Rural Electrification and Renewable Energy Corporation, is considered the largest in East and Central Africa. The solar plant is made up of 200,000 solar panels connected to inverters and installed on 85 hectares of land.

Furthermore, Kenya experienced a surge in wind energy installations for electricity generation due to its suitable climate and location. The country contains the continent’s largest wind farm, the Lake Turkana Wind Power Project, which contributes 310MW to the national grid and increases the country’s supply by 13%. This project resulted in Kenya’s installed capacity increasing from 1,768MW in March 2013 to 2,712MW in 2019. In addition, smaller projects including the Ngong Wind Power plant, which is currently being upgraded, will contribute to the proposed renewable target.

Kenya additionally possesses hydropower potential, with construction soon to be commencing on the Kaptis hydropower project in western Kenya. Following a joint development agreement between the project owner and an equity fund manager, the 14.7MW hydropower project is preparing for financial close at the end of the year. The project is expected to be one of the most environmentally friendly energy technologies globally. Additionally, Tembo Power has expanded its Kenyan portfolio with additional 17MW and 24MW hydropower projects that are currently in development.


Morocco is leading the way in the development and generation of renewable resources. The country’s renewable energy is currently derived from four solar plants and 11 wind power plants. With regards to solar, the country boasts the planet’s largest concentrated solar plant at 580MW, the highest capacity in the country. Located in the Drâa-Trafilalet region, the Ouarzazate Solar Power Plant has contributed greatly to the country’s 2020 renewable energy objective.

Morocco aspires to achieve 42% of total installed power generating capacity from solar, wind, and hydropower by the end of 2020, with the long-term objective of 52% by 2030. The development of The Ouarzazate Plant, as well as major contributors in other projects, is keeping Morocco on track to achieve its goal.

According to a report by the World Bank’s Energy Sector Management Assistance Program, Morocco has impressive offshore wind resources, in addition to its solar resources. The Tarfaya plant has the highest capacity in the country, with 301MW, followed by Aftissat and Akhfenir, with 200MW, respectively. Subsequently, these projects not only contribute to Morocco’s overall target, but also initiate the country’s path towards a secure and sustainable future.


Ethiopia is part of the World Bank’s Scaling Solar Program, which has the goal of making privately funded grid-connected solar projects operational within two years and at competitive rates. According to Bloomberg, Ethiopia is the fourth country, after Madagascar, Zambia and Senegal, to opt for Scaling Solar. With this program, it aims to build 500MW of solar energy.

The country has set up strategies to increase its renewable energy production, including an increase in generating capacity by 25,000MW – 22,000MW of hydropower, 1,000MW of geothermal, and 2,000MW of wind by 2030.

According to the IEA, this strategy is being implemented alongside further objectives including 100% electrification in 2025, with 35% off-grid and 65% grid connected, while extending the grid to reach 96% connectivity by 2030. The latest project is to install 25 mini-hybrid mini-grids financed by the African Development Bank.

Ethiopia is currently heavily reliant on hydropower. Plans to increase capacity to 13.5 GW by 2040 would make Ethiopia the second-largest hydro producer in Africa. Furthermore, in a bid to achieve its electrification objectives, the construction of the Metehara Solar Plant, with an installed power of 100MW, will generate about 280Gwh a year. With an investment of 1$20 million and supported by a 20-year Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with the public energy provider, Ethiopian Electric Power, the plant will distribute energy to the local grid.

Additional investments concerning geothermal power have been initiated within the country. Reykjavik Geothermal kicked off a $4.4 billion project to bring geothermal energy to Ethiopia. According to a report by Reykjavik Geothermal, three exploration wells were drilled for the Tulu Moye Geothermal Project located in the Oromia region in March 2020. The drilling marks the start of the development of a 150MW through the second project phase with an expected completion by 2025. Ultimately, the project will generate 150MW towards the base load electricity needs of the Ethiopian Electricity Grid. Ethiopia is making immense progress in the development of renewable resources, thus establishing its standing as a leader in renewable progress within Africa.

Share This Article

Shuaib Van Der Schyff

Shuaib Van Der Schyff

A Digital Marketing Coordinator, and a Graduate from the University of Cape Town with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Media Studies and English Literature.