Setting the standard for others to follow: Cape Verde and Kenya lead the way in developing approaches to renewable energy.

Author:Ford, Neil

The fact that Sub-Saharan Africa is beginning to embrace renewables is underlined by the role that two countries in particular are playing in promoting the sector. Kenya is encouraging investment in geothermal plants, while Cape Verde offers a vision of power generation entirely free of hydrocarbons.

In 2010, the government of Cape Verde set the ambitious goal of generating 50% of all electricity from renewables by 2020 but it has now gone one step further. It has pledged to produce all electricity from renewables by the same date. Cape Verde is the only country in Africa to set this ambitious goal and one of very few in the world. Costa Rica is perhaps the only other country with the same passion to make renewable energy such an integral part of its national identity. Energy has always been expensive in Cape Verde because the country is forced to import all fuel by sea into what is a very small market of just 550,000 people and even this is fragmented because the population is scattered across different islands, each of which operate mini-grids.

Although it has no hydrocarbons of its own, the archipelago does possess plentiful and reliable wind and solar resources. The government set up a new company, Cabeolica, which is now jointly state and private sector owned, to drive development. It developed the first commercial privately-financed wind farm in sub-Saharan Africa and now controls 25.5MW in generating capacity, spread across 30 turbines operating on the country's four biggest islands. It has been part owned by the Africa Finance Corporation since February.

Even relatively small projects can make a huge difference to countries with limited power sectors. Mauritania was the biggest investor in renewable energy in the world last year in relation to the size of its GDP.

The government of Cape Verde has become a big proponent of renewables and has offered to help other African countries to replicate its 100% reliance on renewable energy. Last year it set up the Centre of Renewable Energy and Industrial Maintenance, with the aim of turning it into a centre of renewables research and development for the wider West African region. The government is confident that renewable energy will create far more jobs than the fuel import business; employment is something that the archipelago badly needs. Despite its elevation to the status of a middle income country, its economy is limited, relying heavily on overseas remittances and tourism.


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