Harvesting the power of the Omo River, approximately 300m south west of the capital, Ethiopia’s Gibe III Hydroelectric Project is one of the largest energy mega-projects in Africa

By Sophie Morlin-Yron (CNN) |

From an Africa-shaped mega solar plant powering Kigali, Rwanda, to a massive geothermal plant harvesting the power of Kenya’s hot springs, renewable energy plants are popping up around the continent.

Sub-Saharan Africa is desperately short of power and roughly 620 million Africans live without a reliable source of electricity.

Africa’s population is expected to double by 2050 and the demand for clean energy has never been greater, says Caroline Kende-Robb, executive director, Africa Progress Panel.

She believes the continent could soon become a renewables superpower, and that it can leapfrog carbon-centered energy systems and go straight to renewables.

“Because what we see is that Africa has got the advantage of coming in now without the heavy old systems that a lot of other countries and regions have,” says Kende-Robb.

“It can proceed with speed and it can use the newest types of technology.”

Energy expertise

And soon, other parts of the world will look to Africa for expertise when it comes to renewables and energy, adds Kende-Robb.

ALSO READ Italian Salini Impregilo to Build Ethiopia’s $2.8bn Worth Koysha Dam“It’s just mind blowing,” she says. “So many innovations happening all over the place. It’s a completely new way of designing cities.”

It is also a question of public health. Many Africans rely on cooking with wood and charcoal, making indoor pollution a big issue — 600,000 people in sub-Saharan Africa die every year from indoor pollution.

Most investment goes to large-scale plants, and to hydropower in particular, but small solar power initiatives are also gaining ground — an estimated 5 per cent of households in sub-Saharan Africa now use some form of solar lighting, compared with 1 per cent in 2009.

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