Renewables to dominate Africa’s soaring electricity demand

Executive Editor
Source: Wood Mackenzie • Roughly half the nuclear is from small modular reactors. CCS stands for carbon, capture and storage technology. Not shown: Geothermal, hydrogen and biomass.

Wind and solar power are set to account for roughly two-thirds of Africa’s on-grid electricity by 2050 in a future where the world drastically reduces heat-trapping emissions, according to a new study by consultancy Wood Mackenzie. That’s up from just 4% in 2020.

Hydropower, nuclear energy and natural gas—both with carbon capture technology installed and without—are the other key sources projected to produce electricity on the continent.

“Africans are least responsible for and most vulnerable to climate change,” said Benjamin Attia, lead author of the report and a principal research analyst for Wood Mackenzie’s energy transition practice. “There’s a huge energy equity component here, and closing that gap presents a big market opportunity that our clients should be paying attention to.”

Resources not shown on the chart include geothermal, hydrogen and biomass, the first two accounting for less than half a percentage point each, and the latter less than 3%.

The study assumes the world keeps Earth’s temperature to an increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius by mid-century. That goal is increasingly out of reach, but it’s nonetheless important to keep striving for it because scientists say extreme weather could get infinitely worse otherwise.

Africa, which accounts for a tiny fraction of global energy consumption today, would have a nearly fully decarbonized (87%) electricity sector by 2050, per Wood Mackenzie’s model.

Because many African countries are still developing their economies and infrastructure systems to support them, the continent presents opportunities to build up cleaner, less centralized power systems than other more developed parts of the world, the study found.

“This is the beginning of the next generation of the utility business model,” Attia said.

This chart addressed on-grid electricity only, which currently accounts for the vast majority (between 93%-97%) of Africa’s power.

But the generation potential for off-grid resources (like solar and storage systems) could reach 20% of the total mix by 2030, according to Attia. That is huge compared to the developed parts of the world, where such off-grid power barely registers.