/ 18 October 2023

Wind energy playing crucial role in Africa’s energy supply

Tsitsikamma Community Wind Farm on the Garden Route is one of the few turbine projects on communal land.
The Tsitsikamma Community Wind Farm on the Garden Route.

Wind energy is playing a key role in Africa’s energy supply but its transformational potential remains untapped, a new report on the status of wind energy on the continent has found.

The inaugural report, which was produced by the Global Wind Energy Council’s Africa Wind Power initiative, takes stock of wind energy’s footprint, the role it plays now and its “bright future prospects” in Africa. 

It highlights a current total of 83 installed wind farms in Africa, adding up to 9 gigawatts of clean electricity, which are mostly located in Egypt, Morocco and South Africa as the main markets. Ethiopia, Kenya and Tunisia are cited as secondary markets. 

Steady rise

Since 2000, there has been a steady increase in the installed capacity of wind on the continent, with this growth seeing annual installations of 800 megawatts and above during 2018, 2020, 2021 and 2022. The year with the highest installation was 2014, where 1 132MW of wind energy was installed, according to the report. 

It identifies 140 projects planned across the continent, representing a pipeline of 86GW of new installed capacity. These include projects in several countries “new to wind”, such as Angola, Chad, Mali, Ghana, Sudan, Niger, Madagascar, Uganda, Zambia and Malawi. 

“For example, 700MW of planned wind capacity was identified in Angola across 13 projects, illustrating the untapped technical potential found even in Central Africa,” the report stated. “More capacity additions are planned for the established wind markets in Southern, Eastern and Northern Africa.”

Africa’s current installed and planned wind energy capacity, however, is still only tapping into 0.2% of the continent’s total technical potential capacity of 33 642GW, according to the report.

North Africa powerhouse

Considering the five sub-regions, North Africa leads in terms of total installed capacity because of the influence and early onset of renewable energy programmes in Egypt and Morocco, which saw initial utility-scale wind project commissioning in 1988 and 2000, respectively. 

Southern Africa, dominated by wind farms in South Africa largely installed through the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme scheme, has the second-highest installed wind capacity. Eastern Africa comes in third with several operational wind farms in Ethiopia and Kenya.

Egypt, the report noted, looks set to dominate the wind sector in Africa over the coming decade, considering its “significant technical potential, existing installed capacity, established local manufacturing industry (for example steel towers, electrical switchgear, and cabling) and numerous recently announced projects.”

This includes the signing of agreements for one of the world’s largest wind farms, a $10 billion 10GW wind farm in the Gulf of Suez region, which was announced by Egypt’s government at COP27. 

Egypt, whose grid has historically been reliant on natural gas, is currently installing large-scale wind and solar and targets to reach an installed capacity of 42% renewable energy in its power mix by 2030, the report said.

“South Africa, with a generation mix that is heavily reliant on coal, has also been pursuing renewable energy now having concluded its 6th round of renewable energy auctions. As of 2022 the country’s installed capacity of 54GW comprised 3.4GW wind, 2.3GW solar PV, 0.5GW concentrated solar power, 0.6GW hydro, 39.8GW coal and 3.4GW diesel.” 

Wind farms provide needed capacity and energy to increase the level of electricity supply in countries looking to expand supply and access to electricity, “with the added benefit of supplying renewable power”. Among these are the Lake Turkana wind farm, which contributes 17% of Kenya’s installed capacity while the Taiba N’diaye wind farm increased Senegal’s installed capacity by 15%. 

Benefits of wind power

The development of the continent’s wind energy sector presents opportunities to impart socioeconomic benefits to households, communities, and countries, the report stated.

These benefits include employment opportunities, leading up to and during the roughly 25-year lifetime of a utility-scale wind asset, clean power for households and industrial consumers, direct (foreign and local) investments, including in supply chain facilities.

With the right regulatory environment and grid conditions, “wind can play a significant role in electricity supply in the continent”, the report found, noting that the identified installed and projects under construction account for an estimated $15 billion in investments and 24.4 million tonnes of CO2 abated annually. 

“Localisation has also begun to take root in the wind industry with local funds (pension schemes and banks) being invested in projects. This trend is apparent in South Africa and increasingly in Morocco. Community-owned projects and projects partially owned by local development companies are also noted.” 

Overall, it said, wind is deployed to contribute to countries’ reduction in carbon footprint, to reduce the cost of supply, to increase available energy capacity in grids, to diversify supply and to captively supply industries. 

“Green hydrogen, repowering, e-mobility and activation of regional power pools are seen as the future areas from which demand for new wind capacity will emerge. With so much untapped potential, wind will continue to play a big role in Africa’s electricity supply for the foreseeable future.”

‘Scratching the surface’

The report said an acceleration of wind deployment is crucial for achieving Africa’s energy access and electrification goals, green growth and industrialisation ambitions and the 300GW by 2030 target as stated in the Nairobi Declaration.

Santosh Sookgrim, senior technical advisor at the South African Wind Energy Association (SAWEA), said some of the biggest obstacles of the wind sector in the country include grid constraints, investor confidence and policy uncertainty.

On grid constraints, Sookgrim said: “For the country to realise a balanced and reliable energy mix, we need to fully acknowledge the current grid constraints and the limitations this places on the energy sector. SAWEA encourages progressive industry discussions with the System Operator regarding the optimisation of the grid including the allocation of grid capacity, in line with the industry’s objective to develop a favourable regulatory environment for the rollout of renewable energy.”

South Africa continues to be attractive to investors “due to our abundant renewable energy resources and the President’s open stance towards a clean energy mix,” he said. 

“Although the market encountered a stagnation period between Bid Window 4 and 5 (2017 -2021), followed by the lack of wind projects as preferred bidders in Bid Window 6 (2022) because of the public procurement process, government is addressing these issues of grid capacity and the implementation of IGCAR [interim grid capacity allocation rules] to improve the connection of new projects to the grid timeously.” 

However, in parallel with this, was an uptick in the development of wind projects for the private offtaker market due to the removal of the distributed generation licence requirement. “This demonstrates the private-offtake market’s ability to attract investment,” he said. 

Wind project development has subsequently ramped up in the private off-take market, which has begun to restore investor confidence in the market.  

“Other challenges include policy uncertainty, supply chain, as well as lack of availability of skills in the workforce for implementation. Wind projects could contribute over 35 000 MW of installed capacity to the grid – if we have policy certainty and continuous procurement. Without either of these, there is the very real risk that South Africa’s vast wind potential will not be realised.”

Wangari Muchiri, the director of Africa Wind Power, said the report sends out a clear message, that “Africa is getting on with the energy transition and a collaborative approach is needed by all stakeholders to clear the pathway. The strong pipeline of wind energy projects shown in the report is at risk without policy intervention, innovative financing models and supply chain localisation.”

Following the Africa Climate Summit, she said, leaders from across Africa and the world must ensure that this year’s COP28 in Dubai is “the moment they step up to the challenge and support Africa in becoming a renewable energy superpower by unlocking the targets set in the Nairobi Declaration”.