Research Highlights

Africa’s low-carbon future?

Published online 29 March 2017

A new study identifies low-cost, low-impact, and highly accessible wind and solar electricity resources in 21 African countries.

Lakshini Mendis

To meet the projected tripling of electricity demands of the African region by 2030, many, if not all, international transmission projects are currently planned around large hydropower and coal plants. Although it is cheaper and cleaner, the current contribution of wind and solar energy to each power pool remains below 1%.

Grace Wu and Ranjit Deskmukh, who are affiliated with the University of California, Berkeley, USA, address this gap in their new study that was published in PNAS1, along with a team of researchers, including Tijana Radojicic, at the International Renewable Energy Agency in the United Arab Emirates. 

The study advocates strategic siting and regional interconnections to meet the increasing electricity demands of the African region.

Wu, Deskmukh, and colleagues characterized and valued wind and solar electricity resources for 21 countries in Eastern and Southern Africa, including Egypt.

Given that the most competitive wind and solar resources are unevenly distributed across countries, Wu states that “strategic transmission interconnections could enable low-cost solar and wind energy to be traded, reducing cost and impact for the region as a whole.”

Implementing this recommendation will require clean energy finance from international institutions, such as the World Bank, the African Development Bank, or international aid agencies. 

The highly-accessible sites identified in the study are associated with “lower lead times and lower system costs in the long run”, which reduce the risk for developers and funders, enabling more low-interest investment. 

Based on this study, governments will be able to work with system operators and utilities to provide incentives for solar and wind project development in zones with lower environmental and social impacts, and lower system and producer costs.


  1. Wu, G.C. et al. Strategic siting and regional grid interconnections key to low-carbon futures in African countries PNAS (2017).