Amy.Offord_111 Nov 20

Winds of Change Seen Across ECOWAS’ and North Africa’s Renewables Drive

Winds of Change Seen Across ECOWAS’ and North Africa’s Renewables Drive image
In July 2019, the Lake Turkana Wind Power project was officially inaugurated in Kenya by President Uhuru Kenyatta. 
“We are pleased to note that Kenya is without a doubt on course to be a global leader in renewable energy,” he stated in a speech given at the launch. “This will not only ensure that our nation’s scenic beauty and unique ecosystems are preserved and protected for both present and future generations, but will also ensure that we become energy independent and that our energy supply will be safe as well as predictable.”

Made up of 365 turbines, each with a capacity of 850 kilowatts (kw) the 2014-incepted project reaching fruition is hopefully a sign of things to come, not just in East Africa, but across the whole of Africa. However, the renewable-rich continent isn’t quite where it needs to be, as a whole, when it comes to injecting a bit of wind into their renewable sails.

In West and North Africa in particular, hydropower has been the longest-standing and largest green energy source used in Africa’s electricity supply industry; gradually being caught up by solar’s impact in the years following. Wind has yet to blow the market away though, and projects like the one being seen in Kenya are now hoped to set a precedent for adjacent regions to follow suit.

Senegal sets the tone for ECOWAS

There are indeed signs that this is happening, in West Africa particularly. Following the news of Lake Turkana’s inauguration, it was also announced this summer that Senegal had started importing turbines for its first large-scale wind farm. The biggest such project in West Africa was formally introduced in December 2018, it will be ECOWAS’ first utility-scale wind power project, and will ultimately supply nearly a sixth of the country’s power.

Privately-owned British renewable power company Lekela expects the 46 turbine-strong wind farm, located in Taiba Ndiaye, about 100 km from the capital Dakar, to reach 158.7 megawatts (MW) by 2020; amounting to more than 450,000 megawatt hours of energy annually, and boosting Senegal’s generation capacity by approximately 15 percent overall. The 200 billion CFA franc ($342 million) farm will be roughly half financed by Lekela, and the other half split between U.S.-based Overseas Private Investment Corp and Danish export credit company EKF.

The former is keen to oversee a cleaner energy future for West Africa; also incorporating adjacent initiatives in the realm of solar, as well as more CSR based programmes such as talent development and community enrichment.  And they’re not alone in this effort either. 

Wind, assisted

ECOWAS’ wind-assisted push towards green energy goals has been epitomised in recent years by the work of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and its West Africa Clean Energy Corridor (WACEC) initiative.

“Building on existing efforts in the region, including those of UEMOA, AfDB and other development partners such as GIZ and USAID, the WACEC will promote the development and integration of utility-scale renewable power in West African power systems,” the Agency explains on its website. “Endorsed by the ECOWAS Energy Ministerial in December 2016 and building on the experience of the ACEC, the WACEC’s implementation plan is built on five key foundations.”

These include zoning and resource assessment, long-term energy planning support, investment framework enablement, capacity building and awareness raising; culminating in a clear and streamlined route to clean energy goals and indeed the likelihood of more projects akin to Senegal’s ground-breaking windfarm in the years to come.

North Africa’s recovery

Meanwhile to the north of the continent, similarly high expectations are in place to match progress being seen to the south and east. In theory, expectation should have even more chance of becoming a reality than in the proactive nations of West Africa; having already embedded a tradition of energy innovation in countries like Egypt and Morocco.

However, the notion of trajectory is not entirely in North Africa’s favour at present. While countries like Senegal look to launch from a less developed starting point, neighbours to the north are facing a bit more of a geopolitical battle to reignite their own project evolution.

It’s an issue that isn’t helped by wind’s overall infancy on the continent. While solar has proved a natural successor to hydropower, the wind industry is still quite small and concentrated. However, as epitomised by Kenya and Senegal (as well as leader of the pack, South Africa), substantial progress is now being seen.

Statistics in 2016 concluded that South Africa boasted more than 1.5GW of operational wind energy capacity, followed in fact by both Morocco and Egypt in second and third. A promising figure on the face of it, but that has had an asterisk next to it in recent years as the two countries continued to recover from the Arab Spring that affected local industry and investment opportunity so dramatically.

Egypt and Morocco

“An interesting fact is that Egypt was at the forefront of the industry back in the 1980s and the first sizeable project it built was a four-turbine wind farm with a capacity of 400kW,” an ESI Africa article reported last year. 

It’s a tradition that the country would dearly like to maintain, especially given the positive focus now being placed on wind initiatives. At face value, the country enjoys positive wind regulation and incentives, especially in the Suez Gulf which is particularly favourable for such generation.

The nation still harbours hopes of being the main renewable energy hub in North Africa, with much of the requisite skills, infrastructure, industry acumen and history already entrenched. This now needs to translate into tangible projects and initiatives though; and the country has subsequently set a national target of adding 4.3GW of renewable energy to its national production capacity by 2022. Wind energy is set to amount to almost half of this goal.

In Morocco, a similar drive to restore former glories and market leadership on the continent also exists. “Through the Moroccan wind energy programme, managed by a public body, the government has established a target of 2 GW of installed wind power by 2020 for an investment of $3.5 billion,” Renewable Energy Focus reported to this end. 

Wind: A continent-wide focus

Official results of this initiative next year will better indicate whether North Africa has been able to reinject pace and enthusiasm into its wind potential. Still outpacing West Africa due to pre-existing infrastructure, the region will want to showcase the same kind of exciting projects and progression that is being seen in ECOWAS if it’s to drum sustainable investment support in the future. 
Policy, technical, political and economic challenges all conspire to stem this prospective excitement but with renewed governmental backing, investor interest and confidence is at least being fuelled in part.

The result could be a continent that is running into the wind from all directions. The South as a traditionally prominent player still thriving; the North putting themselves back in competition with South Africa’s recent dominance; and the East and West accelerating faster than them all as they fast-track to the most advanced solutions and most encouraging of projects.