SUN POWER: A solar carport at the Garden City shopping mall in Nairobi. The carport is Africa’s largest solar carport and will cut carbon emissions from power generation through non-renewable energy by 745 tons annually, with a total 3 300 solar panels capable of generating 1 256 MW annually.Picture: AFP

Victor Kgomoeswana
Victor Kgomoeswana

‘The African Union approved of the Africa Renewable Energy Initiative being moved forward quickly and decided the African Development Bank should be the trustee for the initiative and host the independent delivery unit for the initiative."

These are the encouraging words of the president of the African Development Bank (AfDB), Dr Akinwumi Adesina, at COP 22 in Marrakech, Morocco.

Apparently, the world is taking this climate change threat seriously, finally. Africa could own this push towards renewable energy. Why not? After all, the sunniest place on earth, says Nasa, is Niger. The range of projects coming onstream speaks for itself.

The renewable or cleaner energy potential of Africa just got accentuated by Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta, who inaugurated the 140MW geothermal plant.

Expected to reduce electricity costs by 50 percent, the Olkaria IV power plant took $126.5 million to build. That is capital raised by professionals, deployed to acquire relevant equipment, hire engineers, workers and ultimately take the industrialisation of Africa a step further.

Kenya was not alone. South Africa’s Minister of Energy Tina Joemat-Pettersson recently opened the largest solar farm in the Southern Hemisphere, Africa and the Middle East region.

The plant in De Aar, Northern Cape province, has the ability to power about 75000 South African homes every year.

Rwanda added about 8.5MW of solar energy to its grid. The farm took a mere 12 months to complete and switch on; $200-million plus in investment.

Ethiopia is already the exporter of hydropower to East African countries such as Kenya, South Sudan and Djibouti, thanks to its bold initiative to tap into its massive river network. The country is not yet done with its assertive Grand Renaissance Dam project, among others, yet. It is already proving that all Africa ever needed to shed its inauspicious tag of being the dark continent lies on the other side of indecision and poor leadership.

If we overcome these two monsters, we are in the homestretch to supply more than our billion Africans with renewable energy and improve their quality of life overall, with attendant multibillion-dollar inflow of capital as a bonus.

We still have not factored in initiatives such as the Grand Inga power plan in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) into the equation yet. All we need are leaders such as the late Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Meles Zenawi, President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya and even President Jacob Zuma of South Africa to provide the political leadership for their specialist ministers to deliver these long overdue projects to light up Africa.

This is not without the problems of supply chain irregularities, but then did James Havelock Ellis not say the "absence of a flaw in beauty is itself a flaw?"

Flawed procurement processes are not excusable, but if they deliver better and sustainable means to meet the energy requirements of an industrialising and fast-growing Africa, perhaps we should be real and let progress reign. It is when these improprieties reach "state capture" proportions that we can panic; but still, electricity supply is better than living in the dark. Let the commissions sort out who stole what to deliver the projects, but let Africans get that electricity.

The last point is where I hope Dr Adesina will tighten his grip on foreign dominance of Africa’s renewable energy play. He made some disturbing remarks in Morocco, thanking France and Germany for their contribution to the support of the Independent Delivery Unit within the AfDB, something to the tune of 6 million euros, already.

Nothing wrong with support, as long as it is just that: support; not take-over. The risk in making Africa’s energy mix more renewable is that foreign countries will dump their technology on us without building our capacity to manufacture. That is where the corruption menace resurfaces.

Africa is well positioned to cash in on the renewable energy bus; as long as it does so on its own terms.

And it can.

Victor Kgomoeswana is the author of Africa is Open for Business; anchor of Power Hour, Monday to Thursday, on Power FM; and weekly columnist for Sunday Independent - Twitter Handle: @VictorAfrica