Africa?s wind resource is best around the coasts and in the eastern highlands

About a quarter of the world’s population has no access to electricity, and the problem is especially acute in peri-urban and rural areas in Sub-Saharan Africa. In many African countries, the electricity that is available is likely to be generated by means of diesel generators or other small-scale plant, very often using expensive imported fuel. More small generators keep individual businesses, hospitals and households running.

The high cost of relying on imported fuels has a great impact on some African countries’ economies, and some of them spend a considerable share of their scarce foreign exchange reserves on energy imports.

Local, national or regional grids – where they do exist – are challenged by the increasing demand from consumer equipment such as refrigerators, lighting, mobile phones, TVs and computers; and outages are often a regular feature. In many countries, it seems that the provision of a stable supply of electric power is either not a government priority, or is a priority that conflicts with other pressing issues such as provision of clean water, education and health care.

Large-scale power production in Africa, where it exists, is likely to mean large hydro (as found in Egypt) or the coal-based generation that characterizes South Africa’s power system.

Given Africa’s vast land mass and relatively low population density, it seems likely that a broad mix of decentralized technologies will have the flexibility to meet the needs of many of its countries. Wind power, because of its scalability, can play a key role in both decentralized and in centralized systems.

Africa’s wind resource is best around the coasts and in the eastern highlands, and it is in Mediterranean North Africa that wind power has been developed at scale. This, too, is where current national policies are set to grow the sector further. At the end of 2009, about 96% of the continent’s total wind installations of 763 MW were to be found in Egypt (430 MW), Morocco (253 MW) and Tunisia (54 MW).


In February 2008, Egypt’s Supreme Council of Energy approved a plan to produce 20% of its electric power from renewable sources by 2020. This target includes a 12% contribution from wind energy, which translates into more than 7,200 MW of grid-connected wind farms.

Egypt’s best developed wind region so far is the Zafarana district, with some 430 MW that have been put in place during recent years, and a further 120 MW due to come online by the end of 2010. There are also plans to construct four 250 MW wind farm plants on the Red Sea coast at Gabal el-Zeit. Tendering takes place in September 2010, open to ten companies shortlisted from earlier applications, and the wind turbines project is expected to start operations in 2014 or 2015. Over 7 GW of wind power could potentially be developed by 2020 in this area of Egypt alone.


Morocco has excellent wind resources along nearly its entire coastline, as well as inland near the Atlas Mountains. The Moroccan government has set a target of raising the contribution of renewable energy to 18% of the national electricity consumption (up from 7.9%) by 2012. Wind power is poised to play a key role for reaching this goal with a targeted 1,500 MW of capacity, up from the existing 253 MW at the end of 2009. This target is likely to be met through both a 300 MW grid connected wind farm currently planned in Tarfaya, and plans by industrial companies to install around 1,000 MW of wind energy for their own consumption.

South Africa

South Africa’s electricity market is at a cross roads, and facing numerous challenges. The current electricity system, which is primarily based on coal, suffers from low reserve margins. Current power generation infrastructure is now barely adequate to meet demand, and state utility Eskom estimates that South Africa needs to construct 40 GW of new generating capacity by 2025, about 12.5 GW of which is already under construction.

South Africa is ideally suited for wind energy development, given its abundant wind resources, ample suitable sites and modern high voltage electrical infrastructure.

While so far, only one commercial-scale wind farm (the 7 MW Darling wind farm) is in operation, the South African Wind Energy Association (SAWEA) estimates that with the right policy framework, wind power could provide as much as 20% of the country’s energy demand by 2025, translating into 30,000 MW of installed wind capacity.

According to SAWEA, 7,000 MW of this wind capacity are already at various stages of development, and many projects will be ready  for construction within the next 12-18 months, assuming that they get confirmation of a grid connection and a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA).

Unfortunately, however, the current framework conditions (both in terms of policy and market structure) are not conducive to such fast wind power development. A feed-in tariff for wind power was announced in 2009, but it is yet unclear if there will be a long-term government commitment to wind power, and several issues remain unsolved.

One of these concerns the fact that the vertically integrated state utility Eskom controls generation (which is primarily based on coal), transmission and supply of electricity across the country, making it difficult for independent power producers to access the market.

East Africa

Interestingly there have recently been developments in East Africa – with a 300 MW project under construction in Kenya and other wind projects well advanced in Ethiopia and Tanzania.

Hopefully these early projects, which will in and of themselves make a substantial contribution to the total generating capacity in each of these countries, are a harbinger of a much broader uptake of wind on the continent in the coming years.

The GWEO scenarios for Africa Given Africa’s vast potential for wind power development, especially in the North, along the coasts, and in South Africa, the GWEO scenarios differ substantially from those presented by the IEA.

Under the IEA’s Reference scenario, only 200 MW of new wind power capacity would be added every year until 2020 (less than in 2009), and this would increase to 500 MW by 2030. This would result in 3,000 MW of wind power installed on the entire African continent by 2020 and 8,000 by 2030, producing 7.3 T Wh in 2020 and close to 20 T Wh in 2030.

This would trigger an annual investment of €250 million and €600 million respectively, and create between 4,000 and 8,000 jobs. The GWEO scenarios, however, are considerably more optimistic, taking into account existing policy measures and government targets.

Under the Moderate scenario, wind power would deliver more than four times as much power by 2020 as the IEA forecasts, with an installed capacity of 11,700 MW generating 28.4 T Wh every year. This would then grow by 2,000 -3,000 MW every year up to 2030, when more than 40 GW would be installed, producing over 100 T Wh of clean electricity for Africa. This would not only help the continent’s electrification and energy independence, but also its economies; more than €2.2 billion would be invested in wind power every year by 2020, and this would increase to 3.5 billion annually by 2030; and 30,000-50,000 jobs would be created.

The Advanced scenario assumes that even more effort will be taken to exploit Africa’s wind resources. It shows how, by 2020, close to 20 GW of wind turbines capacity could produce 47 TWh of electricity, growing to 165 TWh by 2030.

Wind energy would then be able to play a key role in developing a sustainable energy future, by displacing 28 million tons of CO2 every year by 2020 and close to a billion tons by 2030, cleaning the air and increasing energy security at the same time.

Economically, too, this development could have a substantial impact in Africa’s wind rich nations. With annual investments in the order of €4.6 billion in 2020 and €5.6 billion in 2030, wind power could grow to become a considerable industry in Africa. The development of local manufacturing facilities would provide jobs for 60,000-80,000 people across the continent, and the avoided costs of imported fuel would have a very positive effect on these nations’ foreign exchange.