Chasing the sun: Africa’s burgeoning renewables sector  

Many African countries are favourably positioned to take advantage of solar energy, but relatively few have made much of an impact in this sector. With the clean energy transition underway, Africa is looking to rapidly expand its use of solar energy and other renewables

Until a few short years ago Angola, twice the size of France, would have relied on its oil reserves to provide most of the energy for its 34 million people. After all, the former Portuguese colony boasts one of the highest hydrocarbon deposits in all of sub-Saharan Africa.

But today Angola is showing the way for the rest of the region in the harnessing of solar energy, the region’s great hope in the renewable revolution. In 2022 alone, Angola installed nearly a gigawatt of new photovoltaic capacity in a 14 percent increase on the previous year. And although that still ranks the country far behind early starters like South Africa, which accounts for more than half of all of Africa’s solar energy, Angola’s rapid embrace of photovoltaic power is seen as highly symbolic. As early as 2025 the government expects to install 100 megawatts of solar capacity, a third of it coming from off the grid as it taps into average annual temperatures of between 16°C and 26°C.

Other countries are following suit, notably Ghana, Kenya and Rwanda. All are pursuing a target of achieving much of their energy from the sun by 2030 in what will be a historic and transformative transition in countries that have hitherto relied on fossil fuels and often erratic grids for their power. Although many African countries are late in seizing the potential of solar energy, they are catching up fast as they come to realise their unique ability to harness the sun.

To take the example of Rwanda, it is located in East Africa at approximately two degrees below the equator, a fortuitous position in terms of solar potential. Technically, its solar radiation intensity is roughly equal to five hours of peak sun a day, way ahead of many western nations.