Despite America’s temporary lack of leadership on the climate crisis, there is a good chance that a prolonged catastrophe can be avoided. Thanks to a combination of market forces, an unprecedented surge in climate activism, and the increasingly concrete global cooperation on the issue, renewable energy is proliferating across the planet like never before.
Much of the developing world is still heavily reliant on coal, and despite massive investments in solar and wind power, populous nations like India are still set to be prolific polluters. When it comes to the African continent, however, something rather interesting is happening: Many of its countries are set to leapfrog over coal and head straight for clean energy electricity sources.
As reported by Axios, the executive director of the International Energy Agency (IEA), Fatih Birol, has this to say on the subject: “When it comes to Africa, I think we will see something for the first time: Namely, Africa will bring electricity to people by mainly using renewable energy and natural gas.”
Although some countries are far more developed than others, overall Africa is home to around 700 million people without a source of electricity. This means that various governments can pick any energy source they like.
— Afrobarometer (@afrobarometer) March 14, 2016
Although coal is still fairly cheap, the cost effectiveness and availability of renewables is looking to be far more tempting for many. For most of the continent, solar power will prove to be the most popular choice.
Birol’s prediction isn’t just based on hope alone – a wealth of studies seem to agree that this is the direction that Africa, in general, is heading in. A key paper from 2016 looked at energy trends across the continent and found that in 21 countries, renewable energy sources could outstrip the nations’ electricity demands by 2030, all for a cost comparable to fossil fuels.
A small caveat at this point. Natural gas will feature heavily in Africa’s near future, but this is almost unavoidable – it’s incredibly cheap and abundantly available. It does have a lower carbon footprint compared to oil and coal, however, and many consider it to be a “gateway” fuel source that will ease the transition away from coal and into clean energy.
There are obstacles that still need to be overcome. In order for renewable energy to take hold across the continent, a lot of cross-border cooperation will be necessary – something that in certain regions will prove difficult. The pre-existing, aged electrical grids are also in dire need of an upgrade.
If this prediction is validated, however, then it will be a game-changing advancement. Taking into account population trends, by 2030, this could mean that an extra billion people choose to use clean energy rather than coal.