Sub-Saharan Africa was home to an estimated 1.1 billion people in 2019, with around 40% of this population living in urban areas.1 The region contains 27 of the world’s 28 poorest countries and had an average poverty rate of 41% in 2018.2 Major barriers to reducing poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa include conflict, a lack of robust institutions, and inadequate access to basic infrastructure services (such as drinking water, sanitation and electricity).3 The region also is home to the world’s most rapidly urbanising cities: Africa’s urban population increased more than 16-fold between 1950 and 2018, from 33 million to 548 million.4 This rapid urban growth is a key driver of energy consumption, with average annual energy use on the continent increasing 3% between 2000 and 2010 and 2.5% between 2010 and 2018.5
Even so, energy consumption in Sub-Saharan Africa remains among the lowest in the world, at around 17 GJ per capita per year in 2018 (excluding Nigeria and South Africa), nearly five times below the world average (84 GJ per capita per year).6 Traditional biomass, mainly wood and charcoal, accounts for 66% of total final energy consumption region-wide and is used across all non-transport sectors, making Sub-Saharan Africa the only region in the world with such heavy reliance on biomass.7 Despite the abundance of local renewable energy resources, renewables accounted for only 7% of the total primary energy supply, 8% of total final energy consumption and 26% of power generation in the region as of 2018.8
play a key role in shaping the energy landscape of Sub-Saharan Africa.
Meanwhile, many Sub-Saharan African governments have made great strides in integrating renewable energy into regional, national and even sub-national planning. By 2018, of the 53 African countries that had submitted Nationally Determined Contributions for reducing greenhouse gas emissions under the Paris Agreement, 45 had adopted quantified renewable energy targets.9 Regionally, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has set a target for 48% renewable electricity by 2030, and the East African Community (EAC) aims for 21% renewables in the power generation mix by 2038.10
City governments play a key role in shaping the energy landscape of Sub-Saharan Africa, including meeting country-level renewable energy targets. However, legislative, financial and technological constraints – such as weak fiscal decentralisation, limited municipal mandates across key sectors and capacity constraints to executing municipal functions – continue to impede wider adoption of renewables.11 Nonetheless, many cities in the region have joined global clean energy initiatives. For example, signatories to the Covenant of Mayors in Sub-Saharan Africa have voluntarily committed to implementing climate and energy actions in their communities, and the Climate Action Planning Africa Programme, led by C40 Cities, brings together 11 megacities in Sub-Saharan Africa – including Accra (Ghana) and Nairobi (Kenya) – that have pledged to become net-zero carbon by 2050.12
These locally driven ambitions have led to positive outcomes. In 2019, Nairobi enforced a national regulation that requires large buildings to use solar PV for water heating to reduce pressure on the electricity grid.13 Rwanda is developing Africa’s first “green” city – within the capital Kigali – to be powered completely by renewable energy, and in 2017 Accra initiated an incentive programme that reduces building permit fees by 10% if applicants include a 20 kW solar PV system in the design.14 In Nigeria, Eko Atlantic City in Lagos State secured its first-ever EDGE (Excellence in Design for Greater Efficiencies) green building certification from the International Finance Corporation in January 2020, giving homeowners the assurance that their homes are designed and built to be resource efficient.15
The following sections provide an overview of the status of renewable energy in five Sub-Saharan African cities, highlighting existing practices as well as opportunities for scaling up deployment.