Clean Energy

It is in the interest of the whole world that Africa achieves sustainable and affordable supply of clean energy for all as it presents a chance to unlock a new source of global growth in Africa as China and other emerging markets slow down. The sustainable energy agenda is important to Africa as it provides an opportunity for the continent to correct her below average performance in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs 2015) and unlock her potentials.


Modern, efficient and affordable energy services are among the essential ingredients of economic development, including the attainment of zero poverty as recognised in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Energy is the life blood of the global economy – a crucial input to nearly all of the goods and services of the modern world. Stable, reasonably priced energy supplies are central to maintaining and improving the living standards of billions of people (The World Economic Forum, 2012).

In spite of the recognised role of energy in economic development, it is worrisome to note that energy poverty remains rife. Energy poverty is defined by the International Energy Agency as “the lack of access to modern energy services. These services are defined as household access to electricity and clean cooking facilities e.g. fuels and stoves that do not cause air pollution in houses.”

Energy poverty is very severe in Africa. Currently, 18 percent of the global population (about 1.3 billion people) lack access to electricity despite modest improvements over the years, and 38 percent lack clean cooking facilities. Sub-Saharan Africa and developing Asia collectively account for more than 95 percent of the global total. Africa, especially Sub-Saharan Africa, has been noted as the epicentre of the global challenge to overcoming energy poverty. In its 2014 Africa Energy Outlook, the International Energy Association estimates that 620 million people live without access to electricity and nearly 730 million people rely on hazardous, inefficient forms of cooking, which affects women and children disproportionately. About 600,000 people are estimated to die each year from indoor pollution from this over-reliance on biomass for cooking.

There are immense challenges and opportunities for sustainable energy development in Africa. But first, one would like to appreciate the commitment of Africa’s political and business leaders, foreign investors and the international community led by the United Nations to the agenda on sustainable energy development through the Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) Initiative; the recent adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (particularly Goal Seven on energy); the highly successful UN Climate Change Conference Paris 2015; and the launch of the African Energy Leaders Group (AELG) at the World Economic Forum (WEF) Davos 2015. These actions would, no doubt, impact on sustainable energy development in Africa.

Africa’s hunger for energy security must take cognisance of the reality of climate change and the energy-climate nexus. According to the Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the energy sector accounts for 35 percent of the total anthropogenic global Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, making it the largest contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions.

The challenge for Africa therefore is how to embrace clean energy innovation, achieve the right energy mix from its abundant renewable resources, break free from the use of fossil fuels and dirty energy and minimise environmental and climate change risks.


According to the Report, despite the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol, GHG emissions grew more rapidly between 2000 and 2010 than in the previous decade. Annual GHG-emissions growth in the global energy supply sector accelerated from 1.7 percent per year from 1990–2000 to 3.1 percent per year from 2000–2010. Decades of fossil fuel public sector-led energy investments in Africa have not yielded expected results. Nigeria, for example, spent about $16 billion between 1999 and 2007 alone, mainly on the National Integrated Power Project (NIPP) without commensurate returns in power supply.

The effect of climate change is all too glaring. Around the globe, seasons are shifting, temperatures are climbing, sea levels are rising and the risk of drought, fire and flood are increasing. The volume of scientific literature on the effects of climate change has more than doubled, while the findings have become increasingly more detailed on how climate change, working hand-in-gloves with poverty and inequality, has continued to pose direct and indirect threats to life and livelihoods.

There is no doubt that the lowest-income countries are the worst hit by climate change. The International Bar Association (IBA) in its Climate Change and Human Rights Taskforce Report asserts that “climate change affects everyone, but it disproportionately strikes those who have contributed least to it and who are also, for a variety of reasons, least well placed to respond. By contrast, the main contributors to climate change – those with the largest carbon footprints, living and working in the world’s wealthier regions – are also, by virtue of their wealth and/or access to resources, most insulated from it.” The IBA Report concluded that the events, causes and consequences raise questions of justice and human rights, especially in poor countries.

In Africa, the impact of climate change has been negatively overwhelming. According to the Climate Change Vulnerability Index for 2015, seven of the ten countries most at risk from climate change are in Africa. Climate change is already impacting weather patterns, water supply and quality, agriculture and food, human health, shelter and ecosystems; and has a worsening implication for the continent’s deep security challenges. According to a Federal Government of Nigeria Report of a Post Disaster Needs Assessment conducted between November 2012 and March 2013, the combined losses of infrastructure, physical and durable assets and across economic sectors as a result of a 2012 flood disaster in Nigeria totalled US $16.9 billion. These sort of losses retard the pace of development in Africa and the continent cannot afford them.
Renewable Energy-Wind Farm
Unfortunately, much of Africa’s energy needs are still met through fossil and bio-fuels that cause pollution and pose real climate change risks. Countries like Nigeria still depend largely on crude oil exploration, which has led to a monumental and reckless ecological devastation in some parts of Nigeria where crude is exploited. Field observations and scientific investigations by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) found that oil contamination in Ogoniland, a site of oil industry operations in Nigeria since the late 1950s is widespread and has severely impacted many components of the environment and means of livelihood of the Ogoni people. Even though the oil industry is no longer active in Ogoniland, oil spills continue to occur with alarming regularity and the Ogoni people live with this pollution every day. Oil development has generated conflicts, resulted in a ‘resource curse’ phenomenon and an enclave economy, especially in the Niger-Delta, Nigeria’s biggest oil corridor. While the Ogoni struggle against Shell and the state led to the death of over 2000 Ogonis between 1993 and 1997, oil conflicts, including a militant uprising, resulted in a military action in Odi known as the Odi Massacre, where over 1000 community members were killed in one fell swoop in 1999.

Africa needs a two-pronged approach to deliver quick results on the sustainable energy development agenda. We need help to create a simple and sound policy environment that would encourage clean energy innovation and bold renewable energy foreign investments on one hand and indigenous entrepreneurship in clean and renewable energy on the other.


The challenge for Africa therefore is how to embrace clean energy innovation, achieve the right energy mix from its abundant renewable resources, break free from the use of fossil fuels and dirty energy and minimise environmental and climate change risks.

This is imperative because what has become clear is that there can be no development in Africa, the world’s last frontier, without access to modern, efficient, clean and affordable energy. It is therefore imperative that we work to increase Africans’ access to energy while mitigating the environmental and social risks of climate change to ensure sustainable development. To achieve this, Africa must avoid getting stuck on fossil fuels and embrace clean energy innovation and renewable energy.

Aside individual countries’ efforts, there are quite a number of initiatives on sustainable energy development in Africa including the US Africa Clean Energy Finance Initiative, the G7’s Africa’s Renewable Energy Initiative at COP 21, the AfDB’s Sustainable Energy Fund for Africa (SEFA). These initiatives, however, face many challenges which include the continued employment of fossil fuel subsidies, the presence of monopoly structures in the energy sectors, regulatory and macroeconomic risks in sustainable energy schemes, the large capital required to fund sustainable schemes, high transaction costs and below-cost pricing, which limit necessary investments.

These initiatives as laudable as they are, are by themselves not enough. Africa needs a two-pronged approach to deliver quick results on the sustainable energy development agenda. We need help to create a simple and sound policy environment that would encourage clean energy innovation and bold renewable energy foreign investments on one hand and indigenous entrepreneurship in clean and renewable energy on the other. More of Africa’s growing billionaires, millionaires and young entrepreneurs need to turn to the power sector and renewable energy, particularly as part of a long term, patriotic commitment to the continent’s development, instead of just focusing on business areas that routinely turn up quick profits but are ‘sterile’ in terms of long-term development impact.

Indigenous entrepreneurship in renewable and clean energy is as important as attracting foreign investments in that sector. It will help create a complementary and sustainable investment model on clean and renewable energy that will see Africans participate massively in energy entrepreneurship, just like we are doing in the manufacturing and hospitality industries.


Indigenous entrepreneurship in renewable and clean energy is as important as attracting foreign investments in that sector. It will help create a complementary and sustainable investment model on clean and renewable energy that will see Africans participate massively in energy entrepreneurship, just like we are doing in the manufacturing and hospitality industries.

To achieve this, our national renewable energy policies would have to make allowance for private investments in both on-grid and off-grid projects on any scale – from a micro to a large scale. This will improve energy supply tremendously, and given that the market would have become much more competitive, energy would become more affordable.

A country like South Africa has made modest strides in her renewable energy programme. It will prove useful for us to look for ways to improve on this programme and come up with a peer learning dashboard for other African countries in the spirit of regional co-operation.

It is in the interest of the whole world that Africa achieves sustainable and affordable supply of clean energy for all as it presents a chance to unlock a new source of global growth in Africa as China and other emerging markets slow down. The sustainable energy agenda is important to Africa as it provides an opportunity for the continent to correct her below average performance in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs 2015) and unlock her potentials.

It is up to Africans, especially our entrepreneurs to see what we can do to help Africa achieve on this agenda.

Chimezie Uzoigwe can be reached through chimezie.uzoigwe@gmail.com.