Maximizing Africa's Clean Energy Potential through the AFSEM

13 Jun 2024
Maximizing Africa's Clean Energy Potential through the AFSEM

According to the Global Solar Atlas, the continent’s average solar energy potential is 4.51 kWh/kWp/day, the highest of any region globally.  Also, about 90% of the continent’s hydropower potential remains unexploited—the largest proportion of untapped capacity globally. 

Africa has huge renewable energy generation potential. According to the Global Solar Atlas, the continent’s average solar energy potential is 4.51 kWh/kWp/day, the highest of any region globally.  Also, about 90% of the continent’s hydropower potential remains unexploited—the largest proportion of untapped capacity globally. One factor that limits the utilization of the continent’s untapped clean energy potential is the low local electricity demand that necessitates the development of renewable energy generation plants. As a result, projects are envisaged and designed to meet local country power needs. This affects project feasibility, as countries with huge renewable energy resources cannot maximize their power-generating resources. 

For countries to fully realize their clean energy potential, the energy demand and market must increase. The African Single Electricity Market (AfSEM) has the potential to expand the need for clean energy across the continent. When electricity markets are not constrained by national borders, renewable energy developers can deploy larger-scale projects. For instance, the feasibility of a large-scale solar power plant built in Niger, would not be limited to the low in-country electricity demand, but can instead supply a larger market like Nigeria or other West African countries. 

Although regional power pools like the West African Power Pool (WAPP) and East African Power Pool (EAPP) have supported cross-country energy trading, they are currently limited by the generation capacity and energy markets of their constituent countries. The African Development Bank is implementing a ‘Desert to Power’ initiative which plans to harness the solar potential of the Sahel. Across 11 countries—including the western, eastern and central regions of the continent—the AfDB plans to support the development of 10GW of cumulative solar capacity which will provide power for 250 million people. Another proposed project, the Grand Inga Dam aims to generate over 40GW of power from about seven hydropower plants in the Democratic Republic of Congo. To fully realize the benefits of these large-scale power projects, the continent’s energy system to be interconnected, more than what is currently capable in the regional power pools. 

With the AfSEM, the interconnection across many countries and regions will expand both the continent’s generation capacity and available energy market. This expansive market will also help to mitigate some of the challenges associated with renewable energy. The interconnection allows for the integration of different clean energy sources to balance widescale energy demand and supply. This will mitigate the challenge that intermittent clean energy sources pose. 

For instance, during the dry season, when there is lower output from hydropower plants, large-scale solar power plants in the Sahel can serve as the main source of power for countries with huge hydropower resources. During the rainy season, large hydropower plants could take advantage of the increased water flow in the rivers and dams to complement reduced solar power production due to increased cloud cover. The existence of a continent-wide grid network will also facilitate the development of advanced energy storage solutions including large battery energy storage systems (BESS) and pumped hydro storage.Ultimately, this will result in increased investment in clean energy technologies and the needed high-voltage transmission infrastructure to transmit this power. 
Expanded clean energy generation capacity will lead to a reduced cost of power across the continent, a key factor currently stifling industrialization and manufacturing. Expanding the energy generation and supply efficiency across the continent will provide countries that rely on expensive sources such as diesel and heavy fuel oil with access to excess supply from cheaper and cleaner sources.

*Image Credit: The African Development Bank


Join us at the Africa Energy Expo from 4 - 6 November in Kigali Centre Rwanda and experience the Africa energy landscape at its finest. The event will serve as a scene-setter to the Africa Power Vision by bringing key energy stakeholders together to increase the level of international support and facilitate access to modern, affordable and sustainable energy solutions in Africa. 

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