Nineteen countries have committed to developing the Africa Clean Energy Corridor to help the continent leap-frog to renewable energy in the face of rising energy demand.
Led by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), stakeholders believe a regional approach can attract the most investment and optimize the renewable energy mix. The corridor will span eastern Africa, from Cairo to Cape Town, where transmission infrastructure is being built to meet growing energy demand.
Currently, Ethiopia hosts the continent's largest wind farm and has plans for 800 megawatts of wind and 1 gigawatt of geothermal. The Corbetti Project is a new model for developing large-scale power projects in Africa and is part of the Power Africa initiative that President Obama announced last summer.
IRENA will facilitate the large-scale, transborder initiative by:
• Identifying renewable energy development zones — areas of high potential — where solar, wind, geothermal or biomass projects would be clustered.
• Facilitating government planning so that renewable energy has a bigger share of the energy mix.
• Fostering new financing models and investment frameworks that rapidly can get projects on the ground.
• Building the local knowledge base and leading public information campaigns.
The need for renewable energy
Demand for electricity is expected to triple in Southern Africa and quadruple in Eastern Africa over the next 25 years, making the region's current dependence on fossil fuels increasingly unsustainable both economically and environmentally, according to IRENA.
Eighty percent of Southern Africa's energy comes from coal, which will need to expand without the growth of renewables because demand is growing at 4 percent a year. East Africa relies on natural gas for 60 percent of electricity, with demand rising 6 percent a year.
"Lifting the African population out of energy poverty cannot be fulfilled if a business-as-usual approach is followed," said Mosad Elmissiry, head of energy at the New Partnership for Africa's Development, an African Union implementing body. "We need a drastic transformation in our approach to developing renewable energy, to be sure renewables are fully utilized. The Clean Energy Corridor can support and further advance the implementation of the regional and continental initiatives already on the ground for further utilization of renewable energy in Africa."
Environmental ministers and delegates endorsed this action plan last week.
Established in 2009, IRENA is the global hub for renewable energy cooperation, supported by 123 countries and the European Union. Headquartered in Masdar City, United Arab Emirates, it supports countries in their transition to sustainable energy, and serves as the principal platform for international cooperation, a center of excellence and a repository of policy, technology, resource and financial knowledge on renewable energy. The inter-governmental organization promotes widespread adoption of all forms of renewable energy, including bioenergy, geothermal, hydropower, ocean, solar and wind.
Last year, South Africa was one of 10 countries that formed the Renewable Energy Club, which is managed by IRENA. The U.S., however, did not join the club. The idea is to break the logjam on confronting climate change by reframing the focus from the negative (cutting emissions) to the positive (rapidly ramping up renewable energy).
Also last year, IRENA unveiled the first world atlas that shows every country's renewable energy potential.
Here's a brief video from IRENA on the Africa Clean Energy Corridor: