New Technologies Transforming Electricity Generation in Africa

Discover how renewable energy, blockchain, IoT, and smart grids are enabling cost-effective electricity generation in Africa. Over 600 million Africans lack access to electricity, but innovative technologies can help bridge the gap.

Thato Nwamadi
May 17, 2023
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Current African Climate

Globally, Africa is the least electrified continent with over 600 million people without access to electricity. That’s nearly 80% of the continent’s population. And those numbers aren’t set to decrease unless major changes are made to the infrastructure and sources because Africa is a region amid an energy crisis. Even with the continent’s booming population, the entire region has an extremely low electrification rate. 

For the longest time, much of Africa has relied on fossil fuels for electricity generation. Its main sources of electricity have been natural gas and coal as the dominant top 1 and 2, taking up the lion's share of the burden with renewable energy sources slowly making up the top 5. Unfortunately, those renewable resources aren’t growing at the required rate to keep up with the ever-growing demand on the continent. 

The issue with natural gas and coal is that they’re limited resources. As such, they can’t keep up with the industrialisation and demands that come with rapid population growth. Given their depleting nature and rising prices, leaders within the continent are looking for cost-effective solutions that not only solve the demand crises but also simultaneously enable growth and innovation.

One of the solutions lies in Africa’s abundance of renewable resources. Which translates to their renewable energy earning and generating potential. The continent is rich in renewable energy sources such as hydro, solar, and wind. That means if invested and implemented properly, the electricity generated will be sufficient for the population without power. In this blog, we’ll take a look at key findings that could bridge the power gap that cripples the continent.

Harnessing Africa's Solar Potential

Probably the most feasible in terms of serving most of the population, Africa has 60% of the world’s best solar resources. However, it only has 1% of solar generation capacity. Renewable energy is key to overcoming many of the challenges that Africa faces. Not only would it help with many of the social, economic, and environmental challenges but it would also encourage new opportunities and developments. Just to get an idea of how much of this market is untapped on the continent; 

  • Only 2% of global investments made in renewable energy in the last 20 years were made in Africa, with large regional disparities.
  • Less than 3% of global renewable jobs were in Africa.
  • In Sub-Saharan Africa, the electrification rate was stagnant at 46% 3 years ago with over 900 million people still without access to clean cooking fuels and technologies.

On the other hand, the continent has great potential, namely; 

  • The continent is abundantly wealthy in wind, solar, hydro, and geothermal energy and the decreasing costs are making them more accessible.
  • The money invested away from importing expensive fossil fuels and redirected toward the mineral resource-rich regions of the continent is essential to the production of electric batteries, wind turbines, etc.

Since the continent has abundant sunlight all year round, it makes solar power in Africa an ideal solution. Solar panels can be installed on rooftops, both commercial and residential, or in off-grid systems to generate power. Hydropower is another viable option as Africa has many rivers and water reservoirs that can be utilised for hydropower generation. Large-scale hydroelectric dams can contribute substantial amounts of electricity to national grids. Favourable wind conditions mean large-scale wind farms can be established to capture that wind energy and convert it into electricity. Additionally, distributed wind energy systems can be set up in remote areas to provide power to communities without access to the main power grid. Other examples where Africa could capitalise are biomass and geothermal energy. 

The Promise of Blockchain for Energy Access

Electricity generation is very centralised on the continent which makes it inaccessible and expensive for most. With blockchain technology, this new innovation decentralises the electricity from the national grid and distributes it cost-effectively. With the emergence of blockchain, electricity can now be accessible through digital assets that are tokenised. In layman's terms, digital ownership of solar cells that verify you purchased and are the owner of those solar cells. Web 3.0 technology has made it possible to establish an auditable encrypted ledger that records energy consumption, and credit histories which gives the end user more control of their energy usage. This would be most beneficial in rural areas in accelerating electricity generation in Africa.

How IoT is Powering the Future of Electricity

IoT technology uses a combination of software development and programming along with hardware solutions to communicate and connect with other devices. Essentially, these interconnected devices communicate with one another to collect and monitor data. Current electric power offerings face many challenges (e.g. accidents, aging infrastructure, regulations, etc.) with IoT seen by businesses as the cost-effective solution. In the long run, the implementation of IoT allows electric power companies to improve efficiency, minimise unscheduled downtime, reduce costs, and decrease asset-related risks.

Smart Grids: Optimising Energy Usage

An emerging technology in Sub-Saharan Africa are Smart Grids which are information technology-enhanced power grids. They provide a 2-way communication channel between energy consumers and producers. They also have renewable energy, smart meters, and smart devices to help manage energy demands and reduce energy costs. African software developers can create peer-to-peer energy trading platforms, smart metering systems, and more. Investing in skilling software engineers in these cutting-edge technologies will be crucial for Africa's electrification and growth.

However, issues such as energy theft, privacy concerns, and lack of trust are what stop smart grids from being adopted by more people. 

In conclusion

Africa has great potential due to its vast wealth of natural resources and ever-growing industrialisation. Increased supply of electricity generation in Africa through renewable energy sources, reduced costs, and reduced reliance on fossil imports are a few of the benefits. Software developers building decentralized and scalable solutions, combined with innovative technologies provide a way for Africa to circumvent outdated electrification models. As more innovative technologies are planned and implemented to address the issues that currently plague the continent and its people, these solutions mentioned above and others give actionable solutions that are practical and beneficial for those that need them most.

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