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China to solve Africa’s energy crisis with green energy?
Tuesday, 12 March 2019 01:51

Photo by: IFC

A global crisis in climate change is a challenge every country will have to face. China has chosen to step up as the leader of the fight against the rise in atmospheric temperature, after the US has withdrawn from the Paris agreement, and has over many years invested billions into green development projects. Africa, a continent with a rapidly growing population, is in an energy crisis as many nations fail to meet their domestic demand. Commitment from China to invest into renewable energy and green projects in Africa can alleviate the continent’s energy crisis, but is China still fossil fuel focused or can they truly be the leaders in renewable energy?

African nations continue to suffer from regular power outages and lack of energy supply, as over 600 million African citizens do not have access to affordable and reliable energy. The lack of stable energy on the continent is a factor influencing growing poverty levels of many nations. Looking at a study done by the Cape Peninsula University of Technology’s Energy Institute, they found a strong correlation between increases in per capita energy consumption and life expectancy of a country. While there is growing investment in Africa’s energy sector, from both domestic and foreign entities, mismanagement of resources has resulted in continued power outages and ineffective distribution of energy, particularly in rural areas of the continent.

Egypt is an example of where Chinese investment into green development has helped grow energy production. Egypt currently receives 90% of its electricity from oil and natural gas, however the country is aiming to achieve a goal of 42% of the country’s energy to be produced from renewable sources by 2025. The Benben complex, a massive solar plant complex under construction, shall be the world’s largest solar plant complex, producing 1.8 gigawatts of electricity. Investment from institutions such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank saw this major project open the first of the 30 expected plants in December 2018.

President Xi Jinping at the 2018 FOCAC summit in Beijing, launched 8 major initiatives to be implemented within Africa, one of which being a pledge to undertake 50 projects in the green development sector. China is the world’s largest manufacturer of renewable energy products such as solar panels and wind turbines, and Africa is poised to utilize these technologies, with countries such as Sudan reaching up to 3,814 sunlight hours on a year-to-year average.

Despite China being a large investor into the renewable energy space, China is still the largest financier of coal, oil and gas projects in Africa. Between 2014 and 2017, Chinese banks provided an average of USD 5bn per year for energy projects in Africa, the largest share of all G20 financiers and with almost 75% of the funding going towards oil and gas projects. China has since 2011 annually consumed more coal than the rest of the world combined, which is a figure they would need to drastically decrease should China wish to change the global opinion of the nation to be that of renewable energy leader and not global polluter.

In 2017 China accounted for almost half of the global renewable energy investment, totaling USD 125.9bn. This amount is more than double their 2013 figure of USD 53.3bn, which despite China still being a strong investor in fossil fuel projects, shows a strong commitment from China to develop their goal of reducing their carbon footprint. China’s investment into projects such as the Three Gorges Dam in Hubei Province, China, has already made them a world leader in hydropower since 2014, and since 2015 China has accounted for one-third of global wind-energy capacity. With China leading in these renewable sectors, the hope is that they shall continue to be the sustainable solution Africa needs to address the continent’s growing energy crisis.

This article is produced by The Beijing Axis and is published in The Econometer section of ChinAfrica magazine (February 2019), an English and French language monthly publication that provides news, views and analysis on all things China, Africa and China-Africa relations.