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Solar empowers African Sahel

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Solar empowers African Sahel
A view of Niger. A large part of the Sahel region has been earmarked for the development of a solar project. Image credit: Michel Isamung from Unsplash.

Solar empowers African Sahel  

The Desert-to-Power initiative aims to bring energy to one of the least developed regions of Africa.

The African Development Bank is the driving force behind one of the world’s most ambitious energy projects: the Desert-to-Power initiative which involves 11 countries across the Sahelian belt. An estimated 250 million people is set to benefit with 10 gigawatts of solar by 2030.

Desert-to-Power will aim to turn Africa’s vast, sun-drenched Sahel region (one of the most vulnerable regions in the world) into a powerhouse of solar energy.

The project will focus on Burkina Faso, Chad, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, and Sudan.

“Desert to Power is what I call the baobab of projects. It will require all our efforts if we are to effect change,”​ says African Development Bank President Dr Akinwumi Adesina.

Solar empowers African Sahel
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Solar empowers African Sahel

The 225 kV Mauritania-Mali Power Interconnection and related Solar Power Plants Development Project (PIEMM), a priority operation under the Desert-to-Power Initiative, was approved late last year.

The project will help develop regional electricity trade in the Sahel. It will allow Mali to import about 600 GWh of electricity from renewable energy sources from Mauritania each year and enable both Mali and Mauritania to increase their national electricity access rate.

Moreover, it will improve the performance of Mali and Mauritania’s electricity sub-sector by reducing fuel consumption and shutting down several generators with exorbitant operating costs thus reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Ultimately, the project is expected to connect 100,000 new households (80,000 in Mauritania and 20,000 in Mali).

Mitigate the impacts of deforestation

The initiative is part of a broader effort to transition Africa towards more sustainable energy sources, helping mitigate deforestation and its associated impacts.

In Africa, deforestation is a significant issue, with an area equivalent to the size of Switzerland being cleared of forest annually, largely for cooking and heating purposes. This loss of forest exacerbates dust storms, disrupts rain patterns, and accelerates desertification, posing severe threats to biodiversity and local climates.

Significant investments in solar energy is crucial for several reasons. Firstly, reliable and affordable energy is essential for reducing reliance on charcoal, which is not only a leading cause of deforestation, but also an expensive option for many households.

The continent’s rapid population growth has intensified energy demands, with the population doubling and doubling again to at least 1.2 billion, nearly half of whom lack access to electricity.

While there are ongoing reforestation projects in countries like Kenya, Congo, Madagascar, and Malawi, the rate of forest loss far outpaces these efforts. The immediate need is to electrify the continent quickly, choosing sustainable energy sources such as solar, wind, and hydropower.

Africa’s vast potential  

Africa’s potential for renewable energy is vast but largely untapped. The continent has an almost unlimited solar capacity (11 TW), significant hydro resources (350 GW, with only between five and six percent currently harnessed), wind power (110 GW, with only two percent utilised), and geothermal energy sources (15 GW).

Despite this potential, 600 million people in Africa live without access to electricity. The continent accounts for just six percent of global energy demand and slightly over three percent of electricity demand. This underscores the importance of scaling up renewable energy investments to meet the continent’s energy needs sustainably.

From 2016 to 2022, the African Development Bank approved USD8.3-billion in energy commitments, with 87% directed towards renewable energy projects.

This investment has already generated 3.4 GW of electricity, including 2.6 GW from renewable sources.

The Bank is also developing an African Green Mineral Strategy to capitalise on the continent’s abundant critical minerals, such as cobalt, manganese, and platinum, which are essential for facilitating the energy transition.

Solar empowers African Sahel  

Solar empowers African Sahel
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AgricultureEnvironmental Management & Climate ChangeEnergyESGInfrastructureMiningPolitical EconomyTourism and ConservationWater Management