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Renewable sources could help answer Africa's energy needs

Renewables in Africa could help solve poverty and climate change (Photo: Warren Rohner CC-BY-SA 2.0)
Renewables in Africa could help solve poverty and climate change (Photo: Warren Rohner CC-BY-SA 2.0)

As African countries' economies and populations grow, keeping up with energy demands will be an increasing challenge. Renewable energy could help.

A recent report by the Green Alliance think tank suggests that the limited supply of electricity to homes and businesses throughout Africa is having a negative impact on development. This is despite the fact that many countries are growing rapidly, with cities like Lagos and Nairobi becoming technological and commercial hubs. Even Nigeria, Africa's most populous country and largest economy, struggles with a total energy supply on the same level as Bradford's; a city with less than 1% of Nigeria's population.

Talking to the Guardian newspaper, Laura Taylor, Christian Aid's head of advocacy, agrees with the report, saying that more must be done to combat the continent's growing energy crisis. According to the Green Alliance's findings, 41% of the world's energy-poor live in Sub-Saharan Africa and 65% of primary schools do not have access to electricity. These figures are troubling, particularly in relation to the UN goal of universal energy access by 2030. However, renewable energy could help provide a solution.

Sunny solutions

The report suggests that the continent will need more than three times as much power if it is to hit the UN goal. It goes on to say that localised energy production and distribution is essential for connecting hard-to-reach populations efficiently. Talking to the Guardian, the authors of the report say that localised energy supplies serve poor populations far better than trying to connect everyone to a national grid. Renewable energy sources, they say, are the cheapest means of producing this sort of decentralised supply.

Not only would renewable sources, such as solar or wind, help to provide power to the poor and difficult-to-reach groups, but it would also contribute to carbon-reduction initiatives. Scaling up this supply could, therefore, be an excellent long-term solution to two of the biggest challenges presently facing the international community, climate change and poverty.

Bright prospects

The Green Alliance report suggests that renewable energy is on the rise in a number of African countries. For example, in Kenya 2.5 million people already rely on personal solar panels for their household electricity. It is no surprise that Kenya and other countries are planning to scale up their renewable energy production over the next 16 years. This shift could have a broad and positive impact on people's lives. For example, electric lights enable children to study for longer every day and thousands of people benefit from the jobs being created in the renewable energy sector.

This revolution could also have an impact on other countries, like the United Kingdom. Here, the shadow business secretary, Chuka Umunna MP, hails the shift to renewables in Africa as a great opportunity for British businesses. This industry, he tells the Guardian, will be a key driver of new high-skilled and well paid jobs in the UK. Just as importantly, technology sharing between countries and cities could aid cooperation on other issues as well, such as the broader challenges of climate change.

SOS Children works in 45 African countries. We provide care to children who can no longer live with their families and work in communities to ensure children grow up in the most nurturing environment. Find out more about our work in Africa.