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Africa/Global: Untapped Potential for Africa Climate Actions

AfricaFocus Bulletin
October 28, 2019 (2019-10-28)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

From off-grid solar home systems (SHS) to utility-scale solar and wind installations, the potential for major advances in use of renewable energy is growing rapidly on the African continent. If this potential is materialized at a faster pace, Africa countries could contribute significantly to mitigating the global climate crisis. This would also reduce the ongoing damage to the environmental health of their citizens, whether from kerosene lamps in rural areas or massive coal pollution in South Africa.

This AfricaFocus contains a short commentary by AfricaFocus editor William Minter summarizing the potential and the obstacles, as well as excerpts from a number of relevant documents on recent developments in both off-grid solar and the difficulties of a transition from coal to renewable energy in South Africa.

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on climate and the environment, visit


Hamba Kahle, Jennifer Davis (1933-2019)

Jennifer Davis, stalwart champion of majority rule in South Africa and leader in the anti-apartheid movement in the United States, died on October 15 in Montclair, NJ, surrounded by her family. She was 85. Her love, curiosity, honesty, and insistent focus on building movements to fight for social justice influenced and inspired countless activists and organizers.


[For full text visit]

Throughout her life, Jennifer was known for her clear-eyed focus on achieving identified goals, ever refusing to respond to public provocations. Jennifer's ability to bring together broad coalitions of individuals working on a common goal was a key to her success. She remained a militant supporter of struggles for a better South Africa as well as for movements for change in the United States.

For more see remembrance posted on

Also see profile by Gail Hovey and 2004 interview by William Minter at

And this 5-minute video from SABC on her life and legacy of determination.

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++

Untapped Potential for Africa Climate Actions

William Minter, Editor, AfricaFocus Bulletin

From off-grid solar home systems (SHS) to utility-scale solar and wind installations, the potential for major advances in use of renewable energy is growing rapidly on the African continent. If this potential is materialized at a faster pace, Africa countries could contribute significantly to mitigating the global climate crisis. This would also reduce the ongoing damage to the environmental health of their citizens, whether from kerosene lamps in rural areas or massive coal pollution in South Africa.

Driven by technological advances lowering costs year by year and by the visible effects of the climate crisis, this transition is still hampered by vested interests in fossil fuels and failures of government planning agencies to adapt rapidly enough. But there is more and more documentation of the fact that renewable options are not only better for the climate and for health but also the least- cost path. There is much untapped potential for replacing kerosene lamps, backup power generators, and coal power plants with cost- effective renewable alternatives, and innovative energy companies and investors are taking note.

East African countries have pioneered in off-grid solar, laying out a viable model that could be emulated by other African countries, including Nigeria. While the primary markets for solar home systems are still in rural areas, power grids in most African countries are so beset by frequent power outages that many homes and businesses that are on the grid must rely on gasoline or diesel generators for backup power. Solar home systems can already begin to replace smaller generators, and further technological advances could make even larger systems cost-effective.

In South Africa, overwhelmingly dependent on expensive and unreliable coal-based power plants, which supply 77% of the country´s electricity, recent studies show that for new energy installations, renewable energy is already the least-cost scenario. But such a shift faces enormous obstacles, not least the multiple dysfunctions and effective bankruptcy of Eskom, the scandal-ridden state-owned electricity agency.

Off-Grid Solar

Rapid expansion in solar home systems is an option that has been well-documented as viable. The latest report by the Global Off-Grid Lighting Association (GOGLA), released in September, for example, reported on research in Kenya, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda with customers of seven off-grid solar companies. Researchers tracked 1,419 customers who purchased solar home systems for 15 months after purchase, with interviews at 3 months and 15 months. The results were clear:

Credit: Solar Works!

  • The greatest beneficiaries are those most in need, namely low-income households, with 59% earning less than $3.20 per day and 81% less than $5.50 per day, indicating that SHS are mainly reaching low-income households in East Africa.
  • Customers generated more income, with the average additional income generated of $46 a month, equivalent to 14% of the national monthly income per household.
  • Respondents reported significant improvement in quality of life, with 95% saying they would recommend their product to a friend or relative.

According to a recent Forbes article, there are 600 million people without access to electricity in Africa, 71 million of them in Nigeria alone. “At this point, we are barely scraping the surface,” Alistair Gordon, chief executive of Lumos that is the largest provider of off-grid solar in Nigeria and Ivory Coast, told Forbes in an interview that they currently have 100,000 customers, and that they project providing solar power to 100 million people in the next 5-7 years. Gordon may be over-optimistic about his company´s prospects, but there is no doubt about the massive market potential.

There is also the potential to replace back-up generators, notes a September report by the International Finance Corporation (IFC). “With rapid improvement in efficiency, performance and economies over recent years,” the IFC concludes, “distributed solar and storage technologies now offer a superior and effective alternative to the back-up generators that are proliferating across much of the developing world.” In Nigeria alone, an estimated 22 million small gasoline generators (4 kVA or less, excluding larger diesel generators) are reported to have a collective capacity as much as eight times the capacity of the electric grid, and are essential to many small businesses as well as households.

According to research by energy consultancy Access to Energy Institute (A2EI), “an effective substitute for small gasoline generators, such as solar systems, can tap into a $12 billion-a-year market in Nigeria alone.” A2EI notes that upfront costs are still prohibitive, at $2,500 for a 1.5kVA solar generator, but regular savings come from eliminating the need to buy fuel. Further research on more efficient systems, they calculate, has the potential to reduce the break-even period to 5-7 years. And while gasoline generators last approximately 5 years, solar systems have a life span of approximately 20 years.

Trapped in Coal in South Africa

The release of South Africa´s Integrated Resources Plan (IRP) in October 2019 was preceded by considerable optimism among renewable energy advocates. Both a Treasury report and the ANC´s National Executive Committee had just affirmed that “the Integrated Resource Plan should articulate the lowest-cost option for the future energy mix for South Africa, with increased contributions from renewable energy sources.” Eskom was reported to be planning a tender for the first large-scale battery storage project, to enable flexible integration of solar and wind into the grid. And President Ramaphosa spoke of an $11 billion green-energy initiative, which would lend money to Eskom at below-commercial rates, contingent on accelerating the closure of obsolete coal plants. .

But when the IRP was announced on October 18, the plan called not only for the decomissioning of 10,500 MW of aging coal plants, but also for launching 1,500 MW of new coal plants. This was inconsistent was the least- cost path scenario detailed by the government Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in November 2018. And it was vigorously criticized by South African environmental justice organizations.

“There is no reasonable basis for building new coal plants when the technology and costs are clearly in favour of renewables and flexible generation” says Makoma Lekalakala of EarthLife Africa. Coal plants built in the 2020s are likely to be abandoned as stranded assets long before they are paid off, the coalition of environmental groups noted in their press release.

The South African Parliament has just approved a $4 billion bailout for Eskom´s debt. But Minister of Finance Tito Mboweni noted that it would only address payment of debt, much of it due to cost overruns on the giant ($20 billion to date) Medupi and Kusile coal plants. The minister also stressed that Eskom required on an overhaul of management at all levels. A devastating report by a outside corporate consulting firm concluded that Eskom had become ”an operationally dysfunctional, financially insolvent, unreliable and corrupt entity,” while arguing that urgent attention to fixing these basic problems must take priority over renewable energy. Renewable energy advocates agree that implementation of any plans, including integration of renewals into the grid, requires fundamental reform in Eskom management, but maintain that doubling down on coal is sure to worsen rather than improve the situation.

Until South Africa resolves the fundamental issue of how to manage Eskom, it is likely that the potential for advance in renewable energy is likely to be implemented more rapidly by hundreds of thousands of off-grid consumers around the continent than by entrenched power companies such as South Africa´s Eskom.


Four ways tackling climate change is already boosting prosperity: Lessons from off-grid solar

Koen Peters, Executive Director

Global Off-Grid Global Lighting Association (GOGLA)

Sep 23, 2019 change-is-already-boosting-prosperity-lessons-from-off-0

Credit: d.light

With the lives and livelihoods of 250 million now powered with solar products and services, demand for off-grid solar has never been higher. It is providing savings, income, and jobs, fundamentally improving the quality of life of its customers. Our latest research ‘Powering Opportunity in East Africa: Proving Off-Grid Solar is a Power Tool for Change’ adds to the growing picture of how off-grid solar is fast helping the world progress on meeting SDGs.

Off-grid solar is tackling climate change, all whilst improving health, wealth, education and income opportunities. It is transformational in the fight against climate change, whilst creating prosperity.

Tackling Climate Change: CO2 emission & black carbon reductions from off-grid solar

58 million metric tonnes of CO2e emissions have been avoided thanks to off-grid solar to date, from the technology of our members and affiliates, over the lifetime of their products. That’s the equivalent of taking 15 coal-fired power plants offline for a whole year; quite staggering given the modest size and cost of these products. This reduction happens the moment a household switches to solar from one of its predecessor products, the dirty kerosene lamp, which emits dangerous and toxic black carbon with high climate-warming potential.

An estimated 270,000 metric tonnes of black carbon is emitted from kerosene lamps worldwide each year, with a climate-warming equivalent close to 240 million metric tonnes of CO2. That roughly equates to 4.5 percent of the United States’ CO2 emissions and 12 percent of India’s. Eliminating these emissions would be equivalent to a five gigaton CO2 reduction over the next 20 years. Research shows that households that acquire off-grid solar products do this in the first place to obtain modern lighting, and then stop using kerosene. We are tackling climate change this way right now. However, we need to go further, faster.

What else are we seeing in the process? Four big things for prosperity.

1. More economic opportunities

Off-grid solar is creating opportunity across the globe, creating new jobs and growing income. Recent research in East Africa found that 34% of households report an increase in economic activity because of their solar home systems. 28% of households using solar home systems report an increase in income, on average $46 per month – equivalent to 14% of the national monthly income per household (based on gross national income). In more than one-third of households, customers use their systems for business or income generation; 81% see this resulting in increased revenues.

2. The boosting of small enterprise and education

Improved access to light and power unlocks previously unproductive hours. Data shows that solar home systems enable 21% of users to spend more time working and earning . In another 21% of households, customers reported using their solar home system to start a new enterprise, the most common being a phone charging business.

Beyond enterprise, the additional hours of light created by solar products lead to more time for children to study. 86% of households with children report that the younger generation now has more time to do their homework.

3. Resilience building

Solar home systems can act as a catalyst for more climate-resilient and sustainable economies, getting us ever closer to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Specifically, solar provides clean, vital energy to some of the world's poorest communities; to the very communities who will be worst affected by climate change. This is already happening in many parts of the world, where solar is powering health-centers; pumping clean water; lighting schools; supporting agriculture and boosting local economies. Solar allows people the means of generating a sustainable, climate-resistant income; farmers can grow crops out of season or during droughts with solar irrigation. Quite literally, solar is powering opportunity.

4. Improved health and safety

Access to off-grid solar can bring significant improvements to health and safety. Kerosene lamps emit smoke that contains large amounts of health-damaging fine particulate matter (PM2.5). Typical PM2.5 levels in households using kerosene lamps have been found to be five times higher than the level deemed safe by the World Health Organization. Yet after replacing kerosene with solar lights, one study found that PM2.5 concentrations in rooms fell by as much as 80%, leading to a 70% reduction in the average exposure of school children. Unsurprisingly, 89% of households report health improvements after buying a solar home system, many of which previously relied on kerosene

91% of households feel safer, too, after purchasing a product. For some customers, safer means a reduction in injuries from kerosene burns or falling, for others, it means warding off thieves, attackers or wild animals at night.

Solar absolutely can and does tackle climate change and boost prosperity simultaneously. We’ve gone beyond the point of solar power being a win-win situation; it's a no brainer. The ‘win’ is instant too; from the moment a customer invests in solar, the impact is immediate. Better light, cleaner light, cheaper light. More light to do more. More light to earn more.

As a sector, we must take this technology as far as we can, as fast as we can. For the sake of the planet and for the 840 million people still living with little or no access to electricity, and who will be the hardest hit by the affects climate change.

So together, let’s make this transition happen now. It is our time.

See also Off-grid solar is a ‘Power Tool for Change’, here’s how to make it mainstream, by Patrick Tonui, East Africa Regional Representative, GOGLA, Sep 16, 2019


The Dirty Footprint of the Broken Grid:

The Impacts of Fossil Fuel Back-up Generators in Developing Countries

International Finance Corporation

September 2019 al_corporate_site/financial+institutions/resources/dirty-footprint- of-broken-grid

Around the world, nearly 1 billion people live without access to electricity, and about 840 million more live with unreliable and intermittent service from electric grids. For many of them, fossil fuel backup generators are the only source of power. But these machines offer a problematic, intermediate solution: their cost of operation is high, they fill neighborhoods and cities with noise pollution, and the exhaust is hazardous to health and the environment.

To better understand the impacts of generators on health, economies, and the climate, IFC has partnered with the Schatz Energy Research Center at Humboldt State University to embark on the most comprehensive inquiry to date into the footprint and repercussions of using backup generators. This study explores fundamental questions about the scale and impacts of backup generators that have been largely unanswered beyond anecdote and local or regionally focused studies.

Key findings include:

* In developing countries, generators serve 20-30 million unique sites and have the potential to produce the power equivalent of 700-1,000 coal fired power stations. In some countries, back-up generators provide more electrical capacity than the national power grid itself.

* Annual spending on generator fuel is roughly $50 billion—nearly twice the average hourly cost of grid-produced electricity. In much of sub-Saharan Africa, there is more spending on generator fuel than on the maintenance and management of the national grid.

* Generators are a significant source of dangerous pollution, including sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxide, and carbon dioxide. While these chemicals are also released by cars, trucks, and motorcycles, generators are usually operated extremely close to homes, businesses, and in crowded commercial districts.

* Backup generators emit more than 100 megatons of CO2 into the atmosphere every year. In sub-Saharan Africa alone, the CO2 emitted by generators is equal to nearly 20 percent of vehicle emissions — the equivalent of 22 million passenger vehicles on the road.


Environmental justice organisations condemn SA’s plans for more coal electricity

Center for Environmental Rights

18 October 2019 condemn-sas-plans-for-more-coal-electricity

In the wake of a new bout of load-shedding, the long-overdue Integrated Resource Plan for Electricity (IRP) was finally published for implementation today – following nearly a year of deliberations, behind closed doors, at the National Economic Development and Labour Council (NEDLAC).

The Life After Coal Campaign (LAC) and Greenpeace Africa (GP) are appalled to note that the new IRP forces in 1500 MW of dangerous, expensive, and unnecessary new coal-based electricity: 750 MW in 2023 and another 750 MW in 2027. This is an addition of 500 MW since the last draft made available to the public in August 2018. The intensifying climate strikes and the UN Secretary General’s repeated appeal for “no new coal power plants after 2020” serve as a stark warning to South Africa – the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions must be prioritised if we are to have any hope of addressing the existential threat of climate change. The President promised action to address the climate crisis, but this final IRP suggests that this promise was empty.

Moreover, the new IRP wilfully ignores all evidence that there is absolutely no need for new coal in the future electricity mix – it does not form part of a least-cost electricity plan for South Africa. Any new coal capacity will simply add to rising electricity costs and further exacerbate inequality and the economic downturn in South Africa. Coal plants built in the 2020s will be scheduled to run well past any reasonable deadline for zero carbon emissions, and are likely to be abandoned as stranded assets long before they are paid off. “There is no reasonable basis for building new coal plants when the technology and costs are clearly in favour of renewables and flexible generation” says Makoma Lekalakala of EarthLife Africa. “We no longer need to choose between clean and cheap electricity – clean energy is an affordable, healthy and feasible alternative.”

The effects of the climate crisis (droughts, floods, rising temperatures and fires) already impact countless lives in southern Africa and cost the fiscus billions. This is quite apart from the severe health impacts caused by coal-fired power stations. “A decision to build new coal plants, and thus expose South Africa to further climate risk and impacts, is a clear violation of the Constitutional rights to human dignity, life and an environment not harmful to health and wellbeing” says Robyn Hugo of the Centre for Environmental Rights.

South Africa faces trillions in transition risk costs as a result of the delays in sufficiently and timeously tackling the move away from fossil fuels. The IRP could – and should – be a golden opportunity to clearly delineate a Just Transition path for the country. Bold and decisive action is required to eliminate electricity sources that exacerbate our country’s triple challenge of poverty, inequality and unemployment. Instead, the updated IRP will exacerbate the current power cuts, by its irrational selection of risky coal technologies that cannot contribute to energy security for many years. “The new IRP is an obvious attempt to serve the few vested interests in the fossil fuel sector, at the expense of many”, says Bobby Peek of groundWork.

“This IRP contradicts the urgent need for a Just Transition and is completely out of touch with reality. South Africa is already a global air pollution hotspot because of the country’s almost complete reliance on coal. The IRP’s irrational increase in the use of coal will only result in yet more deadly toxic air, while wasting precious water resources and pushing us closer to the brink of complete climate chaos”, says Happy Khambule, Senior Political Advisor for Greenpeace Africa. The government is already facing legal action, in the “Deadly Air” litigation launched by the Centre for Environmental Rights on behalf of groundWork and Mpumalanga community organisation, Vukani Environmental Justice Movement in Action, for its failure to protect the health and rights of communities living in the Highveld from the severe air pollution impacts of coal-fired power and industry.

It is understood that the IRP’s allocation for new coal is intended predominantly for the two “preferred bidder” coal independent power producers (IPPs) – Thabametsi (Limpopo) and Khanyisa (Mpumalanga Highveld). These ill-fated projects face a mountain of obstacles – both in relation to their environmental approvals and to their funding. Instead of simply abandoning these costly coal plants (as the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy is within its rights to do), government irrationally continues to grant extensions of the projects’ commercial and financial close deadlines.

LAC and GP maintain that the inclusion of new coal in South Africa’s future electricity plans, is a clear violation of the Constitution. The organisations also argue that a fair process of determining a new IRP demands that communities affected by the harmful impacts of coal-fired power generation must be adequately consulted, and their voices heard. This has not been done, which makes this IRP fatally flawed.

Reasons for the decision to include new coal capacity in the IRP will be requested from Minister Gwede Mantashe in terms of the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act, and the response will inform further legal action.


For media queries and comment, please contact:

Makoma Lekalakala, Director, Earthlife Africa,, 082 682 9177
Happy Khambule, Senior Political Advisor, Greenpeace Africa,, 064 753 3442
Bobby Peek, Director, groundWork,, 082 464 1383
Tsepang Molefe,, 074 405 1257

The Life After Coal/Impilo Ngaphandle Kwamalahle is a joint campaign by Earthlife Africa Johannesburg, groundWork, and the Centre for Environmental Rights


“Long-term electricity sector expansion planning: A unique opportunity for a least cost energy transition in South Africa,” Renewable Energy Focus, September 2019. 1795?via%3Dihub

Abstract: With climate change being near unequivocally linked to anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions there is an ongoing move to decarbonise economies globally with the electricity sector identified as a primary focus for most countries’ strategies. This research presents a Business-as-Usual scenario and electricity sector capacity expansion plans to determine a least-cost as well as decarbonised electricity mix for South Africa. A significant finding is that South Africa has the unique opportunity to transition from an existing carbon and water intensive coal-based electricity system to a low carbon and water intense electricity system at least-cost. The approach applies a generation capacity expansion optimisation using mixed-integer linear programming (MILP) to co-optimise energy and ancillary services. The research finds that it is least cost for any new generation capacity investment to be solar photovoltaics (PV), wind and flexible supply-side or demand-side capacity with a >75% renewable energy (RE) share by 2050, replacing existing capacity as it is decommissioned and meeting new demand. By 2050, the Least-cost scenario is conservatively $ 5.1-bln/year cheaper than Business-as- Usual (≈12%) and $ 7.8-bln/year cheaper (≈20%) when applying expected cost assumptions. A Decarbonise scenario using conservative cost assumptions has a >90% RE share by 2050. It is $4.8-bln/year more expensive when compared to Least-Cost where a ≈60% decarbonised electricity system is possible by 2050. Business-as-Usual as well as Decarbonise scenarios have similar costs when applying conservative cost assumptions while the Decarbonise scenario becomes $ 4.8-bln/year cheaper than Business- as-Usual (≈11%) when applying expected cost assumpions. This is while being 95% decarbonised while Business-as-Usual is 20% decarbonised by 2050.

Additional sources include:

"What you need to know: South Africa’s Integrated Resource Plan 2019,” Mining Review, Oct 21, 2019 africas-integrated-resource-plan-2019/

“Formal comments on the Draft Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) 2018,” CSIR, Date: 2018-10-25

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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