Solar energy is the key to sustainable development in Africa

In recent years, we have witnessed a global shift in the power sector, moving from conventional power sources to renewables. Energy security and decarbonisation have become central to the conversation around Net Zero, but on the other side of the world, these words mean something quite different.

I started my career working for a Nigerian oil company and became familiar with the challenges connected to domestic power on the continent.

Africa is blessed with significant natural resources and receives the highest levels of annual radiation globally. However, its people have the poorest access to energy anywhere in the world, with over 600 million people unconnected. Sub-Saharan Africa has the lowest energy access rates in the world, with 80% of people living in rural communities off-grid.

Because of this, in Africa, ‘energy security’ and ‘decarbonisation’ are inseparably tied with energy access and sustainable development. It’s a problem represented by Goal 7 of the UNs ‘Sustainable Development Goals’, which aims to provide an affordable, reliable, and sustainable solution.

In 2018, only 60% of Nigeria’s population had access to energy. Renewables are providing an answer to this problem, increasing by 18.5% and being driven by solar. 

Once upon a time, solar photovoltaic (PV) technology was considered a fairy-tale solution to addressing this problem. Now, solar is proving to be both an affordable and sustainable electrification solution, especially for people living in rural communities.

The progress has been supported and sustained by international development agencies such as DFID. Konexa, who is backed by both the Shell Foundation and the US Donor Agency, has also supported the transformation of the energy industry in Nigeria. 

An exciting network of start-ups and innovators are also leading the charge. Just last year, the Nigerian renewable energy start-up, Rensource Energy, raised $20 million. They are providing invaluable services, building, and operating solar-powered micro-utilities that provide electricity to commercial community structures. Fenix, (who are part of Engie), has also developed a pay-as-you-go solar solution that uses mobile technology.

Solar will power 66% of hospitals and 72% of clinics that do not have reliable access to electricity. These efforts are also complimented on a micro-level by educational initiatives led by NGOs such as Vicatek. They are committed to combatting climate change by educating the next generation about solar energy.

Black History Month is a great time to celebrate the progress in development, as well as celebrating the contribution African and Caribbean people have made to society.

Solar energy presents Africa with the opportunity to provide for people, something we take for granted in Europe. I hope, for a Black History Month sometime in the near future, we’ll be looking back at the incredible achievements Africans have made in this area.

Miriam David, Business Executive