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.