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USA/Africa: Renewable Energy Advances on Many Fronts
May 7, 2018 (180507)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
Resistance to rapid renewable energy expansion is still high, despite the
acknowledged costs in climate change. The U.S. Power Africa initiative still funds
predominately natural gas, although its investment in renewables is growing. In
Kenya, the Kenyan and Chinese governments are pushing ahead with a coal-fired
generation plant in Lamu, despite strong resistance from local environmentalists and
the fact that China is rapidly abandoning coal at home. Nevertheless, technological
changes and rising awareness of the damage done by fossil fuels are propelling new
advances on many fronts.
This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains links and brief excerpts from articles and reports
documenting both progress and the potential for more rapid progress for renewable
energy on several fronts in the African context. Particularly notable are reports on
off-grid solar, the best known option for rural African households; on solar and wind
mini-grids, which have great potential which is also beginning to received
significant investment, and on the steadily increasing role of renewable energy in
the Power Africa portfolio, in contrast to the "all of the above" mantra as initially
launched by the Obama administration.
Also of note are the increasing scope of civil society protests as well as broader
international trends in driving the turn away from fossil fuels. This is highlighted
in particular by the continuing resistance to the Lamu coal project in Kenya, and by
the advance of renewable energy in the United States despite the campaign against it
being waged by the Trump administration.
The Lamu project is the focus of the Decoalonize initiative
(http://www.decoalonize.org/) The Africa affiliates of the 350.org project (
https://350africa.org/) are also active, particularly in South Africa and Ghana. The
Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (http://www.pacja.org/) brings together national
and regional coalitions from around the continent. And the Africa Renewable Energy
Initiative (http://www.arei.org/) brings together African governmental agencies to
shape a continent-wide framework.
On May 25, climate justice groups in Africa will be holding
"Fossil Free" protests in at least eight countries.
Another AfricaFocus Bulletin released today and available at
http://www.africafocus.org/docs18/clim1805b.php, contains two recent articles on the
progress of renewable energy even in Trump's America, by leading climate action
advocates Bill McKibben and Joe Romm.
For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on climate and the environment, visit
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Off-grid solar market returns to robust growth, according to latest sector report
Apr 26, 2018
http://www.gogla.org – Direct URL: http://tinyurl.com/y9sa4m2o
The off-grid solar sector has returned to robust growth, reversing a brief dip in
sales that was mostly due to localized shocks, according to a new report released
today by the World Bank Group’s Lighting Global program and the Global Off-Grid
Lighting Association (GOGLA).
The latest Global Off-Grid Solar Market Report shows that during the second half of
2017, participating companies reported sales of 4.14 million off-grid solar products
- a jump of 18 percent compared to the first half of the year.
This generated $115 million in cash revenues for the sector, up 20 percent on the
previous six months. For the first time, the report also captured the amount of solar
capacity installed by participating companies: 22 megawatts between July and December
Russell Sturm, the Global Head of Energy Access at IFC, a member of the World Bank
Group, says clean, affordable off-grid energy solutions are delivering crucial
private sector growth in emerging economies.
“Innovation and investment are catalyzing a revolution in energy access”, said Sturm.
“Recent findings suggest that the market will grow by around 25 percent year-on-year,
providing improved energy access to 740 million people by 2022. That’s a very
The quality of off-grid products has also improved. The report shows that since the
start of 2016 alone products sold have become, in aggregate, 43 percent brighter.
This enhances security while also providing students with the opportunity to study at
night, or for workers to engage in income generating activities.
The number of people accessing larger systems - which can power multiple lights or
appliances such as radios, fans and televisions - has also grown. Today, over two
million people have access to Tier 2 energy services through off-grid solar products:
350,000 more than in the same period of 2016.
The latest edition in this series of semi-annual sales reports uses data provided by
67 GOGLA members and companies whose products meet Lighting Global quality standards.
These companies represent an estimated 30 per cent of the total off-grid solar
market, and have sold 34.8 million off-grid solar lighting and energy products since
Minigrids Are the Cheapest Way to Bring Electricity to 100 Million Africans Today
A CrossBoundary analysis shows why minigrids are vital to achieving affordable,
sustainable, modern energy for all.
by Matthew Tilleard, Gabriel Davies and Lucy Shaw
Greentech Media, April 20, 2018
http://www.greentechmedia.com – Direct URL: http://tinyurl.com/y9lmlffs
By all measures, Africa is currently losing the battle to end energy poverty by 2030.
U.N. Sustainable Development Goals commit the global community to delivering access
to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all. One barrier to
success is the ongoing political debate about how best to provide power to the more
than 600 million people in Africa without access to electricity. Vested interests,
inertia, aversion to change — all traits of the energy sector — do not lend
themselves to speed, nor to innovation.
The debate has huge financial, economic and social implications. To solve it,
empirical questions on technical feasibility and cost must be solved. At the same
time, tough judgments about what quality of power people should receive, how much
they should pay for it, and the role of the private sector vs. the public sector must
also be addressed.
Three main ways exist for providing electricity access: 1) extension of the existing
electricity infrastructure (i.e., “main grid extension”); 2) minigrids; and 3)
standalone solar home systems (i.e., residential solar). All three have a role to
Minigrids are self-sufficient electricity grids with their own power generation,
storage and transmission capacities. They can serve households and businesses
isolated from or integrated with the main grid.
The potential for minigrids to play a role in universal electrification in Africa has
been well recognized. Beyond their ability to integrate with the main grid, they are
also the least-cost option for many people in rural Africa. The International Energy
Agency in 2014 estimated that minigrids could serve 140 million people by 2030. In an
updated projection last year, it put that number at 290 million, or more than double
the original estimate.
This minigrid in Niger can provide power to a village. IRENA is providing grids
and home solar kits to 100 rural villages.
However, actual minigrid deployment is still extremely limited. As such, justifiable
skepticism exists on whether this potential can be fulfilled.
In an effort to put that skepticism to rest, CrossBoundary developed a new analysis
to calculate the minimum number of people in Africa who can be most cheaply connected
by minigrids today, compared to the two other options.
Why is this important? Because when governments, donors and investors do reach
consensus, they mobilize billions of dollars to support millions of connections. The
pay-as-you-go solar home system sector in Africa — comprising systems serving single
households — raised over $750 million from 2012 to 2017. This is dwarfed by the
investments that single countries are making on expanding their existing grid
infrastructure. For instance, the Kenyan government is investing $1.4 billion,
supported by $675 million from the World Bank, African Development Bank and other
development funders to build generation capacity, transmission lines and distribution
In comparison to those sectors, the top five minigrid developers in Africa have
raised less than $100 million over the last five years.
To help establish this "minimum role," CrossBoundary has undertaken a least-cost
analysis (based on “like-for-like” connections — average 100 watts per household) in
order to estimate the number of people for whom minigrids are the cheapest way to
connect today. We took the most conservative view possible. No projections on
population growth, no future cost reductions on minigrids, and no assumptions beyond
minimum quality of power required. We used the costs now, for the people who live
What is the minimum number of people in Africa for whom minigrids are the most costeffective
As the chart below [available in full article] shows, of the three paths, no single means of electrification is
always the cheapest. Main grid extension is generally the least-cost option for
people who already live close to the grid (such as urban and peri-urban populations).
Minigrids are usually least-cost for people who live so far from the main grid that
extension costs are higher than installing local generation and storage capacity, but
in a location densely populated enough to support the fixed costs of building the
minigrid infrastructure. Solar home systems are the least cost for everyone else -–
those living in sparsely populated areas, where running poles and wires from even a
local minigrid becomes expensive.
How did we develop our minimum answer?
CrossBoundary started by combining the data on existing and planned high-voltage
transmission lines from the World Bank with data on the population density of Africa
by square kilometer from WorldPop. This allowed us to map out where each square
kilometer of population is relat
[more detail, with tables and graphs, in the full article available at the link
So, returning to the original question: Should minigrids have a role in delivering
universal access in Africa?
Yes, because they are the cheapest way to deliver power for at least 100 million
Our minimum analysis approach compares well with more complex and optimistic models.
Other published estimates have more complex methodology and also projections on
minigrid cost reductions and population growth. We are right at the lower end of
estimates made by UN-DESA and IEA, both using the KTH Royal Institute of Technology
model. The striking increase in IEA’s estimate from 140 million in 2014 to 290
million in 2017 is driven by falling costs of solar, better information on population
densities, and rollout plans of the existing grid. Our analysis establishes a minimum
number that the most hardened skeptic can accept. These models establish more
realistic estimates for those who already see the potential of mini-grids.
Tracking Power Africa: Lessons and best practices in energy access
Oxfam America and Sierra Club
[Brief excerpts only: full report available at http://tinyurl.com/ycnztowp]
Significant financial investment is required to achieve universal energy access,
particularly in sub-Saharan Africa where the problem is especially acute. Access to
energy is essential in building livelihoods and economic opportunity across sectors
such as agriculture, health, and education.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that approximately $43 billion is
required annually to provide electricity to the 1.1 billion people around the world
presently lacking it. The majority of these energy-poor people are also most at risk
to have their livelihoods impacted by climate change. There is, hence, increased
urgency to reduce emissions from the energy sector, raising questions on the best
forms of technology in achieving energy access and how best to finance them.
Power Africa is a US government-led public-private financing initiative with the
goals to add more than 30,000 megawatts (MW) of “cleaner, more efficient electricity
generation” and to increase electricity access by adding 60 million new connections
in sub-Saharan Africa. Power Africa operates across multiple US government agencies
and has employed most forms of conventional energy technologies in its four years of
operation. This report presents an independent analysis of Power Africa’s portfolio
in order to inform the broader energy-access financing agenda.
Process and Top Line Findings
The report’s authors analyzed the entire Power Africa portfolio through March 2017,
drawing from multiple agencies, including the US Agency for International
Development’s (USAID’s) Power Africa Tracking Tool (PATT), a tool that tracks the
first of three Power Africa goals, called “pillars”: the generation of energy,
measured in megawatts. (Power Africa’s three goals are (1) generation,(2)
connections, and (3) unlocking energy sector potential.) The report assesses four
categories: the breakdown of projects across the different US government agencies,
the technologies employed, the target countries, and the breakdown of spending for
on- and off-grid investments.
The analysis considered 371 projects, amounting to more than 22,900 megawatts (MW) of
generation potential and $52 billion total expected investment. Information on what
financing had been approved was only available for 178 projects, amounting to 3,500
MW of new generation potential and totaling $3.5 billion of approved US financing for
$12.2 billion of anticipated investment.
Support for Off-Grid Projects Still Falls Short But is Trending inn The Right
To achieve universality, energy access financing requires that the majority of
financing—approximately 71 percent, according to the IEA—should support off-grid
projects. Overall, Power Africa is trending in the right direction with financing
increasing over the years for off-grid projects. The Beyond the Grid subinitiative
(BTG) was specifically established in order to achieve its connection goal of 60
million new connections.
Aggregate information provided by Power Africa shows that, as a percentage, Power
Africa has increased spending toward its connections goal, where it now represents
approximately one- third of its budget. Of the 178 projects tracked in this report’s
analysis where approved financing data was available, off-grid projects only
represent 10 percent of financing approved within the initiative so far. While much
of the data was only available from projects for the megawatt goal (generation), it
is clear that Power Africa should continue to increase funding toward off-grid
High-risk projects with little development and access potential receive significant
support. Projects that have high social, environmental, and climate risk while having
a less direct impact on development and energy access—such as heavy fuel oil and
natural gas—represent a major component of Power Africa’s footprint. Africa has a
significant generation gap, which the megawatts goal of the initiative is attempting
to help address. However, adding more megawatts cannot be a goal unto itself, as many
separate studies have shown that the development benefits of such projects for local
communities are often difficult to track.
The US government provides more financing to natural gas—over $740 million—than
to any other fuel source. The fact that the US government provides both the largest
amount of financing as well as the largest amount of megawatts to natural gas
demonstrates the US government’s reliance on natural gas in meeting its Power
Africa goals. There is very little evidence that natural gas development
increases energy access. It is unclear that this or any other large centralized
power plants actually improve the economic livelihoods of poor people, a stated
goal of Power Africa. For example, the Azura-Edo natural gas power plant in
Nigeria failed to connect the communities that resided closest to the plant,
thus failing to provide them with any economic gains. Moreover, natural gas
is a much higher-risk project given that it contributes to climate change by
releasing methane at every point in its life cycle—extraction, transportation,
processing, and consumption. Because methane is far more potent than carbon dioxide
in terms of its warming potential, 20 some studies find it to be almost as bad,
if not as bad or worse than coal.
Although Power Africa has recognized the importance of mini- and off-grid renewables
with increased financing for off-grid projects trending upwards, an even greater
emphasis on such projects would improve the initiative’s energy access goals. There
is still significant support for projects with high levels of social, environmental,
and climate risk, with these projects typically offering little to no benefit for
development or energy access. A different model that moves away from rewarding large,
polluting companies like ContourGlobal—responsible for the Cap des Biches
project—and, instead, nurturing innovative, community-supported organizations is
Other related articles
Dorothy Otieno, "Why coal has no place in Kenya’s energy future: Economic and
environmental realities spur countries across the world to close coal power plants,"
Kenya Daily Nation, April 14, 2018
"A all in the cost of renewable energies, ever-improving technologies and the threat
of climate change have all come together to make wind and solar energy more
attractive than coal across the world. Still coal accounts for 40 per cent of global
electricity, according to the World Bank.
Kenya is set to build a 981.5 megawatt (MW) coal-fired thermal electricity-generating
plant in the Manda Bay area, Lamu County, even as costs of renewable energies are
falling dramatically and fuelling a push to phase out coal power generation around
Derrick Jackson, "Catching a Breeze," American Prospect, Spring 2018
"There no longer is any comparison with coal, which Trump touted as beautiful and
clean in his January State of the Union address. While at most 1,000 coal jobs were
added in Trump’s first year, the wind industry added 25,000 jobs in 2016, according
to Trump’s own Department of Energy. In 2012, there were nearly 90,000 coal-mining
jobs and 80,000 wind energy jobs. Today, with cheap natural gas and the rapid advance
of technology that makes renewable energy cost-competitive, there are more than
100,000 manufacturing, construction, and operations jobs in wind, nearly double
coal’s now 52,000."
"WindEurope anticipates that offshore wind will account for 7 percent to 11 percent
of the EU’s electricity demand by 2030, and that all wind energy will provide between
a quarter to nearly a third of demand. But with the cost of offshore wind dropping
and technology improving so rapidly, the group said offshore wind could produce a
quarter of EU demand on its own by 2030."
"Climate Change Could Force Over 140 Million to Migrate Within Countries by 2050"
World Bank Report, March 19, 2018
"The worsening impacts of climate change in three densely populated regions of the
world could see over 140 million people move within their countries’ borders by 2050,
creating a looming human crisis and threatening the development process, a new World
Bank Group report finds
But with concerted action - including global efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions
and robust development planning at the country level – this worst-case scenario of
over 140m could be dramatically reduced, by as much as 80 percent, or more than 100
The report, Groundswell – Preparing for Internal Climate Migration, is the first and
most comprehensive study of its kind to focus on the nexus between slow-onset climate
change impacts, internal migration patterns and, development in three developing
regions of the world: Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Latin America."
Ahmed Mokgopo, "How a Development Bank is Propping Up the Fossil Fuel Industry in South Africa. And Why
it Must Reverse Course," Common Dreams, April 27, 2018
South Africa is grappling with a serious energy crisis.
Communities across the country are crippled by the lack of electricity, a
situation worsened by the widespread lack of jobs. A straightforward solution
to both problems would be investing in distributed and small scale renewable energy,
particularly in rural areas.
Instead, the country is still doubling down on coal, with a new coal fired
power plant called Thabametsi set to open in Lephalale, Limpopo province.
Regrettably, the project can count on the financial contribution of the
Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA)
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