Solar’s Role in a Changing Africa

September 10, 2020


Before COVID-19, sub-Saharan Africa was home to several of the fastest-growing economies in the world. At the same time, Africa’s population was out pacing global population rates. The continent is expected to be home to over a quarter of the global population by 2050[1]. While the pandemic is putting a strain on Africa’s growing economies, it is unlikely to deter its rising population.

The growing population is putting increasing stress on energy grids. The grids are already struggling to keep up with high demand, leaving 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa without a connection[2] and this number is expected to grow.  

The inability of the grid to adequately serve increasing populations is why solar must play a central role in delivering power for everyone and will be the key to delivering a more sustainable and equitable future.

Five ways solar power will support a more sustainable and equitable future:

  1. Providing affordable energy 

Renewable energy is already edging out fossil fuels on price. According to a report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), more than half of the renewable capacity added in 2019 achieved lower power costs than new coal plants. 

Off-grid solar is predicted to be the most affordable option for an estimated 71% of global future connections in rural areas[3]. The falling cost in renewable energy will make clean energy affordable to millions of people for the first time.

  1. Lighting up cities

Solar home systems have traditionally been associated with providing electricity to rural populations without access to the grid. However, poor or no energy connection is, in fact, a prevalent issue facing those living in urban areas.

As populations grow, it is expected that 50% of Africans will be living in cities by 2030[4]. This does not guarantee that they will have access to electricity. There are already more than 100 million people[5] in urban Africa who live with access to a grid but lack an electricity connection due to high costs. Thus, growing urban populations will require alternative energy sources, and solar provides an affordable, reliable and clean solution for people in cities and towns across the continent. 

  1. Reducing pollution and improving health

In Nigeria alone, there are roughly 1,500 deaths every year, caused by the inhaling of generator smoke and carbon monoxide[6]. As solar energy adoption increases, less respiratory diseases, heart conditions and a better quality of life will follow.

  1. Supporting social development and gender equality

Women, in particular, will benefit from increased access to energy. With electricity access, less time and effort are needed for tasks related to cooking, water collection, and other housework, which are typically undertaken by women.

There is also strong correlation between access to energy and new entrepreneurship opportunities for women who have more time to run microenterprises. Studies have shown that rural electrification raised female employment in electrified communities by 9.5 percent.

Solar will enable an increasing number of women to be able to work and participate in economic, political and social life.

  1. Tackling the climate crisis

Sub-Saharan Africa is one of the regions in the world that is most exposed to the adverse effects of climate change. While the region has contributed the least to the climate crisis, extreme weather conditions will be exacerbated in the region if it’s growing population relies heavily on polluting fossil fuels for their electricity production. 

Solar is having an ever-growing role in helping to build the new climate economy. In the future, not only will solar help to minimise sub-Sahara’s greenhouse gas emissions, it will also provide reliable and resilient energy networks, helping to support a thriving economy. 

What impact will solar have? 

Solar is already having broad and wide reaching positive, social and economic impacts in sub-Saharan Africa, on an individual and national scale. 

A recent CDC report highlighted that 88% of Lumos customers have seen their quality of life improve and eight out of ten of those of our customers who are using the system for income-generating activities saw an increase in their income, primarily due to cost savings.  

By powering households and communities, we will see these localised impacts spill over into a wider economic boost. We will see advancements in jobs, health, social equality, security and education, all of which are vital in lifting populations out of poverty and unlocking economic growth in a rapidly changing continent. 

To find out more about Lumos’ impact in Nigeria you can read the full CDC report here.