Akinwumi Adesina, head of the African Development Bank (AfDB), has a bold vision for electrifying a continent where two-thirds of people lack access to power, and getting there by skipping carbon-intensive growth in favour of renewable energy.
At U.N. climate change talks in Paris on Tuesday, Adesina said the initiative would boost renewable energy output in Africa by nearly tenfold to 300 gigawatt (GW) by 2030.
“Africa is simply tired of being in the dark,” Adesina said to a cheering crowd at the African Pavilion at the summit in Paris for the launch of the African Renewable Energy Initiative.
Adesina, a bow-tie wearing former Nigerian agriculture minister who took over the helm of the development bank in September, said the project, backed by the 54-nation African Union, could attain its objectives through five critical elements that will fast-track the project.
The bank, which will act as a trustee of the initiative, will invest $12 billion in energy projects across the continent over the next five years, which will leverage about $40 to $50 billion from the private sector, he said.
The bank would also work with other power initiatives on the continent such as U.S. President Barack Obama’s $7-billion plan to “Power Africa”, projects by the European Union, Britain and others to raise their levels of investments in the energy sector.
On Tuesday, after meeting several African heads of state, French President Francois Hollande announced plans to spend billions of euros in renewable energy and environmental projects across Africa over the next five years.
The bank will also work with African countries to increase the share of their GDP that goes to the energy sector from 0.49 percent to about 3.5 percent, raising over $50 billion for energy projects.
The countries also have to carry out fundamental reforms of the energy sector, their utilities and the pricing of energy to ensure subsidies on fossil fuels are diverted to renewables.
“There is no shortage of (private sector) money to come to energy in Africa, but we have to get the policy and regulatory environment correct,” he said.
The initiative goes to the heart of an issue under discussion at the climate talks — how to convince developing nations to leapfrog the cheap, carbon-intensive energy sources like coal that powered the industrial revolution and move directly to the low-emissions sources that many see as critical to slowing global warming.
Although Africa has renewable power options that include hydro, solar, wind, geothermal and biomass, about 640 million people or about 68 percent of the population lack access to electricity.
Only about 35 GW of power in Africa now comes from renewable sources of total installed electricity capacity of about 160 GW.
“Our sunshine should do more than nourish crops, it must light up homes. Our massive water resources … should power homes and industries. Potential is important but homes and industries cannot be powered by potential,” he said.