Smart City: African cities demon­strate lead­er­ship in renew­able ener­gy deployment

Africa’s urban pop­u­la­tion grew more than 16-fold between 1950 and 2018, from 33 mil­lion to 548 mil­lion, and this rapid urban growth has been a key dri­ver of ris­ing ener­gy demand. Cities across sub-Saha­ran Africa are increas­ing­ly rec­og­niz­ing the oppor­tu­ni­ties pre­sent­ed by the use of renew­able ener­gy to improve ener­gy access, reduce ener­gy pover­ty, and increase the resilience and reli­a­bil­i­ty of exist­ing ener­gy systems.

City gov­ern­ments play a key role in shap­ing the ener­gy land­scape. At least 19 cities, includ­ing Cape Town (South Africa) and Kam­pala (Ugan­da), have set renew­able ener­gy tar­gets, and 34 cities have poli­cies in place. Many cities in the region have joined glob­al clean ener­gy ini­tia­tives. For exam­ple, sig­na­to­ries to the Covenant of May­ors in Sub-Saha­ran Africa (CoM SSA) have vol­un­tar­i­ly com­mit­ted to imple­ment­ing cli­mate and ener­gy mea­sures in their com­mu­ni­ties. The Cli­mate Action Plan­ning Africa Pro­gramme, led by C40 Cities, brings togeth­er 11 megac­i­ties in sub-Saha­ran Africa that have com­mit­ted to becom­ing car­bon neu­tral by 2050.

Local ambi­tions have led to pos­i­tive results

REN21’s new report high­lights the achieve­ments of five very dif­fer­ent and rep­re­sen­ta­tive cities: Cape Town (South Africa), Dakar (Sene­gal), Kam­pala (Ugan­da), Tsévié (Togo) and Youndé IV (Cameroon).

The City of Cape Town has been a pio­neer in pro­vid­ing more afford­able and secure ener­gy access and reduc­ing the city’s car­bon foot­print. In 2017, the city entered into a court bat­tle with the nation­al gov­ern­ment to allow it to buy elec­tric­i­ty from inde­pen­dent pow­er pro­duc­ers (IPPs) and not be restrict­ed to buy­ing coal-fired pow­er from Eskom. In 2019, Cape Town had the high­est con­cen­tra­tion of reg­is­tered rooftop PV instal­la­tions nationwide.

Dakar is home to 50% of Sene­gal’s urban pop­u­la­tion. As part of the C40 Cities Lead­er­ship Pro­gramme, Dakar has com­mit­ted to becom­ing car­bon-free by 2050. The city’s trans­porta­tion plan calls for three ambi­tious infra­struc­ture projects — train, bus, and road — with the shared goal of increas­ing elec­tri­fi­ca­tion and reduc­ing reliance on fos­sil fuels for these three modes while reduc­ing air pol­lu­tion by 2030.

Kam­pala’s ener­gy needs are dom­i­nat­ed by the trans­port sec­tor, with inef­fi­cient modes of trans­port dri­ving up con­ges­tion in the city. The SMART Mobil­i­ty Pro­gram has facil­i­tat­ed suc­cess­ful pub­lic-pri­vate part­ner­ships that have result­ed in the use of more than 200 new and retro­fit­ted elec­tric motor­cy­cles for pub­lic trans­porta­tion in 2020. The rise of elec­tric mobil­i­ty in Kam­pala is a pow­er­ful exam­ple of how such rela­tion­ships can be lever­aged to advance the renew­able ener­gy agen­da at the city level.

Tsévié has imple­ment­ed a three-year com­mu­ni­ty ener­gy pro­gram to pro­mote local ener­gy access and devel­op­ment. Under this flag­ship pro­gramme, the coun­cil aims to achieve its sus­tain­abil­i­ty goals in four strate­gic areas: 1) sus­tain­able use of bio­mass, 2) Use of decen­tralised pho­to­voltaics on roofs, 3) increased use of elec­tric motor­cy­cles; and 4) Shift to pub­lic transportation.

The city of Yaoundé IV intro­duced a pilot project in 2019 to switch house­holds from using LPG to bio­gas to reduce green­house gas emis­sions. The suc­cess of the project has paved the way for sim­i­lar pro­grammes, notably ENERGY PLUS, which aims to build an indus­tri­al-scale bio­gas plant to sup­ply elec­tric­i­ty to Yaoundé IV and its surroundings.

Low-cost renew­able ener­gy can be an impor­tant lever for eco­nom­ic growth

Renew­able ener­gy offers cities in sub-Saha­ran Africa not only bet­ter access to mod­ern ener­gy ser­vices, but also impor­tant co-ben­e­fits such as reduc­ing air pol­lu­tion, mit­i­gat­ing cli­mate change, cre­at­ing more liv­able urban areas, and improv­ing qual­i­ty of life through bet­ter access to basic ser­vices. How­ev­er, munic­i­pal­i­ties in the region face numer­ous obsta­cles to the use of renew­able ener­gy. Key chal­lenges include pol­i­cy and reg­u­la­tion, under­de­vel­oped net­works and infra­struc­ture, unsta­ble cus­tomer arrange­ments, access to finan­cial mar­kets, data needs and tech­ni­cal capacity.

Although urban author­i­ties in sub-Saha­ran Africa have lim­it­ed influ­ence over infra­struc­ture and ser­vices, they can all take steps to pro­mote the use of renew­able ener­gy local­ly. Devel­op­ing low-car­bon path­ways requires the coop­er­a­tion of a wide range of actors, includ­ing nation­al pol­i­cy mak­ers. As the five case stud­ies show, pro­gres­sive lead­er­ship has led to pos­i­tive results in the use of renew­able energy.

The full report is avail­able here.