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10 Oct 2017

Renewable energy in Africa

South Africa
Energy Access
Renewable energy in Africa

The Library, Documentation and Information Department of the African Studies Centre has compiled this dossier to coincide with the NVAS AFRICA DAY 2015 – AFRICA and TECHNOLOGY on October 17, 2015. It contains a selection of recent titles on Renewable Energy in Africa from the library's online catalogue, including monographs, articles, and chapters from edited works, published since 2013. Each title links directly to the corresponding record in the online catalogue, which provides a more detailed description of every title as well as abstracts of  articles and edited works. The dossier starts with an introduction to the topic, followed by sections on Renewable Energy Resources, Planning & Policies, and Local Impact stories illustrating how applied renewable energy technology can change lives as in the case of improved fuel efficient cook stoves and photovoltaics. The dossier concludes with a selection of links to relevant websites.

The interest among academics, policymakers and the general public in issues of renewable energy in Africa has surged in recent years. Technological advances, political and economic pressures, as well as environmental imperatives, have driven rapid growth in renewable energy production and supply. Important international agreements, such as the Kyoto Protocol and efforts to implement carbon credits, support the search for more renewable energy sources. On the African continent there has been a specific interest in hydroelectricity, as well as wind energy, solar energy, biofuels (such as jatropha oil), and fuel efficient cook stoves. Renewable energy debates have been linked to topics of sustainability and energy policy, but less frequently to existing discussions about natural resource management. In the policy arena, most African governments participate in discussions about renewable energy, and NGOs, such as AFREPREN (African Energy Policy Research Network), play an important role in lobbying and research. Research into renewable energy is conducted at prominent institutions, such as at the Department of Geography, Environmental Management and Energy Studies, the University of Johannesburg.

Despite growing interest in the broader theme of renewable energy, the academic debate continues to suffer from several weaknesses. The first is the gap between policymakers, practitioners and academics. Whereas there are numerous reports and extensive ‘grey literature’ on issues of renewable energy in Africa, there is a limited number of academic peer-reviewed work. Moreover, academics and practitioners are unwilling to share their results with each other. The second weakness is the distance between technical and social science approaches towards renewable energy. The vast majority of academic articles on issues of renewable energy come from the technical or exact sciences, for example, measuring the combustion efficiency or health impacts of improved cook stoves. The social sciences angle is often missing. In the debate on adopting improved cook stoves, this results in accusations of creating ‘cultural barriers’, whereas a social scientist can put such generic categories into context and emphasize specific cooking habits or natural resource management in different localities. Ethnographic and consumer research, questioning why renewable energy sources do or do not work, would be a valuable and a timely addition to the existing debate. Furthermore, a regional or comparative focus could be adopted more systematically. Whereas at present, case studies of renewable energy exist for various localities (West Africa, East Africa, Southern Africa), it is important that these case studies should be linked together,  so that comparing their similarities or differences is more straightforward and thus a more effective continent-wide policy framework can be drafted.

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