The US First Lady Jill Biden’s visit to Africa this week to discuss climate change and food insecurity is timely. Africa faces serious environmental challenges, including land degradation, deforestation, biodiversity loss, and extreme vulnerability to climate change. Indeed, the continent is most vulnerable to climate change and the least equipped to cope. However, addressing climate change will almost be impossible until the world is ready to deal with the environmental and development inequality challenges. For instance, the United States has emitted over a quarter of all greenhouse gases since the 1750s, while the entire continent of Africa has emitted only about 3 percent.
With this challenge not expected to end in the foreseeable future, we must now turn to alternative power solutions. One way of bridging the gaps is scaling up investment in renewable energy, which offers a cost-effective solution for providing communities and businesses in Africa with low-cost, reliable, and clean power—particularly in regions with no existing power grids.
In its report, Africa 2030: Roadmap to a renewable energy future, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), states that the world is increasingly embracing modern renewable energy technologies. For many years, these technologies have been supported to address environmental and energy security concerns and are now seen as the most economic option.
Globally, renewables are changing business models and creating opportunities not only for power plant operators and end customers, but also for other system participants in the smart energy sector. Solar is an important renewable energy source, many organizations and countries have invested in it as a key alternative to fossil fuels.
The total amount of energy irradiated from the sun to the earth’s surface is enough to provide more than 10,000 times the annual global energy consumption. Moreover, the cost of solar energy is less than that of conventional generation if the indirect costs of fossil fuels are included, such as environmental and health costs. Yet these benefits remain largely untapped; most energy decisions taken today overlook solar power as a modular technology that can be rapidly deployed to generate electricity close to the point of consumption. In addition, the implementation of sustainable energy solutions is beset with a myriad of challenges, key among them being the initial investment required to implement renewable energy projects.
The good news is that the African Development Bank and partners in the new fund will continue to provide growth capital and infrastructure equity to support renewable and sustainable energy and focus on decarburization, decentralization and digitalization as the key climate mitigation and energy transition strategies.
In South Sudan, the National Environment Policy aims to ensure the protection and conservation of the environment and sustainable management of renewable natural resources. South Sudan has about 8 hours of sunshine per day with a solar potential 436 W/m2 /year. The country has demonstrated the potential to work with a wide range of stakeholders and support new clean-energy projects and sustainable peace.
While renewable energy has significant long-term benefits, it requires a significant upfront investment, which can be a barrier for some companies. To address this challenge, Trinity Energy has partnered with a range of stakeholders, including governments, NGOs, and the private sector, to leverage funding and resources to implement renewable energy projects across Africa. For example, the company has partnered with the South Sudan Electricity Corporation to increase the current 6 MW generating capacity with a 10 MW solar power plant which will supply the city and nearby counties.
It is noteworthy that without a stable and sustainable source of energy, our economy cannot grow and households will continue to suffer. We all have a responsibility to act swiftly and to support local businesses trying to create a better future by providing simple but effective solutions accessible to everyone. It will not happen in isolation but through collaboration and partnership with players across the public and private sectors.
One crucial step is to bring a far broader range of actors into the sector, particularly in the investment finance, marketing, and retail areas. At the same time, there is a need to proactively encourage its uptake and lobby for the development of a local industrial base. Above all, African governments need to identify energy security as the single most important challenge that must be prioritized and addressed effectively to accelerate economic growth.