The statistics tell a grim story: Africa is the world’s least electrified continent and its electrification rate is growing slower than anywhere else.
To shore up the deficit as national grids lacking lack capacity and efficiency to power homes, solar power has often been deployed as a viable alternative—despite bureaucratic scepticism. Yet there’s evidence that Africa’s leading economies are looking to diversify their energy mix even further with wind power becoming an increasingly popular choice.
Last year, led by Egypt, Morocco and Ethiopia, countries in Africa and the Middle East installed nearly 900 megawatts of wind power, recent data from the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) shows. But that’s just a start as the rate of wind power installation is projected to accelerate over the next five years: GWEC projects 10.7 gigawatts of wind energy capacity will be installed across both regions by 2024.
South Africa, the continent’s most advanced economy, will lead the drive for wind power installations with an additional 3.3 gigawatts added to its energy capacity by 2024. South Africa’s urgent recourse to wind power is likely linked to its ongoing problems with the state power utility as electricity blackouts have become increasingly normal. Like in several other African countries, South Africa’s problems are rooted in being unable to expand electricity infrastructure quickly enough to cope with population growth and demand.
In July 2019, Kenya unveiled Africa’s largest wind power project in Turkana County, 600 kilometres (372 miles) north of the capital Nairobi. The Lake Turkana Wind Power farm consists of 365 turbines with a capacity to dispense 310 megawatts of reliable, low-cost energy to Kenya’s national grid.
As African countries are increasingly left in the dark in comparison to other parts of the world, wind power could provide policy makers with another alternative to struggling national grids. And, in addition to powering more homes, wind power also provides environmental upside given long-running air pollution problems across the continent.
Mpumalanga, an eastern South African province particularly stands to gain from a greater focus on renewable energy. Home to a dozen coal-fired power stations, the province is the largest single area infected by the deadly nitrogen dioxide globally, according to satellite imagery analysis by Greenpeace, the Netherlands-based environmental non-profit.