Last month, George Airport in South Africa became the continent’s first solar powered-airport when it launched a clean energy project that in its initial phase, will supply 41% of the airport’s energy demands. This initiative follows the world’s first solar-powered airport, Cochin International Airport in India and the Galapagos Ecological Airport in Ecuador, which operate solely on sun and wind power. The successful completion of the George Airport at just over a million dollars is a milestone in renewable energy development in Africa, a continent long plagued with electricity generation and supply troubles.
According to an Energy Report from the African Development Bank Group, the total installed generation capacity of all 48 sub-Saharan African countries is just 68 gigawatts, no more than Spain’s total capacity. In addition, as much as one-quarter of that capacity is unavailable because of aging plants and poor maintenance. In sub-Saharan Africa, just one in five persons has access to electricity. If the trend continues, fewer than 40% of African countries will reach universal access to electricity by 2050.
To overcome these unsettling statistics, African countries must intensify their exploits of renewable energy sources. In a World Bank Climate Finance Report released on Monday, it was projected that sub-Saharan Africa could provide more than 170 gigawatts of additional power through 3,200 low-carbon energy projects, such as combined heat and power, biofuels production, mass transportation and energy efficiency.
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Some alternative energy projects have been dotting the continent; just last month, Morocco commissioned a solar power plant predicted to power one million homes by 2018. When completed, this project will hold the record for the world’s largest concentrated solar plant.
However, there is so much more to be achieved. Africa still ranks the least among continents that has benefited from investments in the renewable energy market.
Even so, all hope is not lost. At the recently concluded Africa Carbon Forum in Dakar, Senegal, plans were announced for a solar powered university in Nigeria, biofuels development in the Ivory Coast and a wind farm in Senegal. If these plans are matched with action, Africa’s effort towards renewable energy development will yield more impressive milestones before 2030.