The Nordic Africa Institute

Research at a glance

Sustainable development requires affordable green energy

Solar field from above

Solar field at the Agahozo Shalom Youth Village in Rwanda. Photo : Sameer Halai, USAID / Power Africa.

Date • 3 Apr 2019

For many African governments facing numerous challenges, green energy solutions may not be at the top of their priority list. However, without a focus on clean energy the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals will be difficult to achieve in African countries, according to Nordic Africa Institute guest researcher Opeyemi Esther Akinyemi.

Many sub-Saharan African countries are still looking at the traditional path to growth of industrialisation, without considering social and environmental issues. The energy sector contributes significantly to environmental deterioration through the way energy is produced, transported and consumed. It is a key contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.

“The energy sector is key. For the energy sector to support sustainable development, it must encourage adoption of green, clean energy and renewables for a smooth transition to a green growth path”, Akinyemi states.

Her research analyses how energy sustainability can support sub-Saharan Africa’s transition to a green economy to achieve its sustainable development agenda. Yet there are still many barriers.

For many African countries facing poverty, democracy deficits and many other challenges, it is difficult to focus on green energy or other issues related to sustainable development.

“This applies both to governments and people – knowledge and concern are limited. Poverty demands other priorities”, Akinyemi remarks.

Yet another barrier to successful sustainable development in Africa is that few countries can afford the green technologies needed.

“Even if the necessary equipment arrived, they don’t have either the infrastructure or human capacity to use it”, Akinyemi notes.

In many cases, donor countries are willing to invest in green solutions. But then issues of corruption and transparency come up.

“Many investors have had bad experiences of money being misused. So, good governance is also an important factor for African countries to achieve sustainable development”.

Donors and institutions, such as the African Development Bank, have been supporting the promotion of renewable technologies. But they now also need to support locally based green businesses, which will reduce the cost of green solutions.

“For instance, solar panels must be made affordable for people. If green energy is too expensive, people don’t have the luxury to buy it, which means sustainable development in Africa is at risk”, Akinyemi concludes.

TEXT: Nadège Ininahazwe