African Micro-Grids & Renewable Energy


The Africa Australia Technology + Infrastructure Conference is a great business forum that promotes development of micro-grids and renewable energy in Africa as the cost-effective pathway to uninterrupted power supply and efficient utilisation of presently under-utilised clean energy resources across African countries.

According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), off-grid renewables have gained significant traction in Africa, where more than 28.5 million people benefit from access to electricity through solar lighting products (Lighting Africa, 2015). In Kenya, a leader in off-grid solar deployment, more than 300,000 solar lighting systems have been deployed (TERI, 2015). Private enterprises, such as M-KOPA and d.light, now provide solar lighting to millions of people while creating local jobs and increasing savings for customers. Solar lighting represents a first step in the energy ladder. Mini-grids offer further opportunities to upgrade both the quality and quantity of energy supply.

The African continent is endowed with large renewable energy potential, varying in type across diverse geographic areas. Solar resources are abundant everywhere, while biomass and hydropower potential are more plentiful in the wet, forested central and southern regions. Wind resources are of the highest quality in the north, the east, and the southern regions, while geothermal energy is concentrated along the Great Rift Valley. These resources, and the settings in which they exist, can point to country specific renewable energy solutions to fit each state’s strengths and needs.

These solutions will allow Africa to leapfrog to achieve minimum cost, environmentally friendly energy sector development, which ultimately contributes to sustainable development goals. (IRENA, 2015)


Solar EnergyAfrica has an exceptional solar resource that can be harnessed for electricity generation and for thermal applications. The desert regions of North Africa and some parts of Southern and East Africa enjoy particularly long sunny days with a high intensity of irradiation. Sahelian and Tropical conditions also feature strong solar irradiation. Solar energy can be utilised at various scales, making it suitable from the household and community levels to industrial and national scale operations.

Utility – Solar PV and CSP

Africa’s solar PV capacity has grown exponentially in recent years, but from a low base. Cumulative installed capacity at the end of 2014 was 1 334 megawatt (MW), more than ten times larger than in 2009 (127 MW). South Africa is leading this rapid growth, adding nearly 780 MW between 2013 and 2014. Kenya has also seen sizable investments in solar PV, with 60 MW installed by 2014 (IRENA, 2015b). This accelerated growth will continue, as more than 14 GW of solar PV and 6 GW of CSP are either announced or in the pipeline (GlobalData, 2015). For example, a single company, SkyPower, has bilateral agreements in place to install 7 GW of solar PV capacity in the coming five years in Egypt, Kenya and Nigeria (IRENA 2015).


Wind EnergyWind is converted into useful energy utilising wind turbines, for use either to drive electrical generators or to directly power pumps and other machinery. The theoretical potential for wind in Africa exceeds demand by orders of magnitude, and about 15% of the potential is characterized as a high-quality resource. This enormous capacity is not evenly distributed: East, North and Southern Africa have particularly excellent wind resources. Countries with especially high wind quality include all those in North Africa; Niger in West Africa; Chad in Central Africa; Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, Somalia, Uganda in East Africa; and in Southern Africa Lesotho, Malawi, South Africa, Tanzania and Zambia.

Wind Power Generation

By the end of 2013, total installed wind capacity in Africa was 1 463 MW. In 2014, 999 MW of new capacity was installed, bringing the total to 2 462 MW at the end of 2014 (IRENA, 2015b). Even with the remarkable growth rate in South Africa during 2014, Morocco still had the largest installed wind capacity in Africa. East Africa is also seeing growth, with the 300 MW Turkana project under construction. Additionally, 140 African wind farms are in various stages of preparation, totaling 21 GW of new capacity expected to become operational between 2014 and 2020 (GlobalData, 2015). In Egypt, the government’s goal is to have 7 GW of wind power installed by 2020. Morocco has set a target of 2 GW by 2020, and South Africa plans to install 8.4 GW of wind power by 2030 (IRENA, 2015f). Scenarios prepared by the Global Energy Wind Council (GWEC) predict that installed wind power capacity in Africa will rise to between 75 GW and 86 GW by 2030 (GWEC, 2014).

The typical range of African wind power projects is smaller than 150 MW. However, projects in the pipeline are increasingly of a larger scale, with projects between 300 MW and 700 MW under consideration. In general, on-shore wind is now one of the lowest-cost sources of electricity available, and in Africa the LCOE range is between USD 0.046 to USD 0.145/kWh for projects installed in 2013 and 2014 (IRENA 2015).


HydroAfrica has abundant hydropower resources. It is estimated that around 92% of technically feasible potential has not yet been developed (IRENA and IEA-ETSAP, 2015b). Central Africa has about 40% of the continent’s hydro resources, followed by East and Central Africa, each having about 28% and 23% respectively (Hydropower and Dams, 2014). At the end of 2014 there was 28 GW of hydro capacity installed in Africa (IRENA, 2015b). This makes hydropower by far the most important renewable power generation option deployed today. Of the resources available, the Congo River has the largest discharge of African rivers, followed by the Zambezi, the Niger and the Nile.

Large-Scale Hydro

Hydropower plant projects with a combined new capacity of 17 GW are currently under construction in Africa (Hydropower and Dams, 2014). Given that large hydro projects often have outputs far in excess of the national demand for electricity, it is necessary to develop these as regional projects. Two projects of note are the Grand Inga project and the Great Millennium Renaissance Dam. The Grand Inga project on the Congo River envisages the installation of 40 GW of hydro generating capacity, which would make it the largest hydro facility in the world. It is to be developed in 8 phases. The current phase of development, Inga 3, has a total potential of 7.8 GW, and of that total 4.8 GW of capacity is under development, to be commissioned by 2023 (World Bank, 2014a). A significant share of electricity is destined for exports, which will go as far as South Africa. Transmission lines totalling 1 850 kilometers (km) are to be developed to support Inga 3 exports of electricity (IRENA, 2015).


BiomassBiomass residues are generated at various stages of agricultural and forestry production. They include:

  • Wood logging residue, e. parts of trees that are left in the forest after removal of industrial roundwood and woodfuel
  • Crop harvesting residues generated in the fields, such as wheat straw, maize stover, cassava stalk, etc.
  • Residues generated on animal farms, which may include manure and a mixture of manure and bedding materials
  • Agro processing residues generated at the agri-food processing plants, for example rice husk, sugarcane bagasse, etc.
  • Wood processing residues generated in sawmills, furniture production facilities, or similar, which include bark, sawmill dust, and cuttings
  • Biodegradable waste, including organic fraction of municipal waste, construction and demolition debris, etc.

The total supply potential of crop harvesting and agro processing residue in Africa is estimated at around 4.2 EJ in 2030. The West Africa region has 40% of this resource. Total supply potential

of wood residues (including both logging and processing residue) and wastes and animal residues are estimated at around 1.1 EJ and 1.5 EJ per year, respectively. The North Africa region has 40% of the wood residue and waste resource, and the Central region has the lowest wood residue potential (IRENA, 2014b).

Crop-Harvesting Residue: Briquettes and Pellets:

Crop-harvesting residue can be used as feedstock for briquettes and pellets. Briquettes have been successfully marketed as an alternative to wood and charcoal in countries such as Egypt, Sudan, Rwanda, Namibia and Kenya. Their greater density means reduced transport costs, a longer burning time and, depending on the type of biomass and processing method, fewer emissions.

Agro-and Wood-Processing Residue: Electricity Generation and Industrial Applications:

Sugarcane bagasse is widely used to generate the electricity and heat needed on-site. As elsewhere in the world, the African sugar industry has in the past made efforts to adjust the efficiency of combustion to utilise as much as possible bagasse and avoid its disposal. In regions where legal and technical conditions allow, such as Mauritius and South Africa, the industry is also moving toward selling any excess to the grid, which would eliminate the need to adjust combustion efficiency.


Bagasse is particularly important in countries that produce large volumes of sugarcane, such as South Africa, Egypt, Sudan, Kenya, Swaziland and Zimbabwe (FAO, 2015). (IRENA, 2015).

Landfill gas is another gaseous fuel generated from the organic fraction of municipal waste. Landfill gas projects are becoming increasingly common in Africa. For example, in South Africa, the Durban municipality has implemented a landfill gas-to-electricity project with an installed power generation capacity of 7.5 MW (IEA, 2014b).


Power LinesGeothermal energy is a resource of considerable importance in East and Southern Africa. It is estimated that the continent has a potential of 15 GW, all of it found along the Rift Valley, which runs from Mozambique to Djibouti (Geothermal Energy Association, 2015). As of 2014 there was 606 MW of geothermal capacity installed in Africa, of which 579 MW was in Kenya (IRENA, 2015b). Kenya’s capacity more than doubled in 2014, an indication of the rapid rate of implementation of this technology in the country. Kenya has production experience and additional projects with a combined capacity of nearly 3 GW have already been identified. Some are also under development in Ethiopia and Tanzania and aim to increase the generating capacity of these countries by 640 MW by 2018. Djibouti is aiming for projects to come on-stream in 2020.

In December 2014, for the first time, power generation from geothermal sources in Kenya accounted for more than half of Kenya’s electricity output. Kenya is the main hub of the African continent in terms of geothermal technology capacity building and is considering to host the Centre of Excellence for Geothermal Development in Africa. (IRENA 2015).

Geothermal plants are capital intensive and hence development costs have risen along with increasing engineering, procurement and construction costs. Capital costs for recent projects in East Africa have ranged from USD 2 700/kW to USD 7 600/kW, with a weighted average of USD 4 700/kW (IRENA, 2015d). The price tag for projects planned for the period 2015 to 2020 is expected to drop from current levels, but overall these high upfront costs, along with associated uncertainties, are the key barriers to the development of geothermal power plants. In many instances geothermal projects also require long-distance transmission lines.