Africa basks in the sun with little to show in offshore clean energy
Wednesday May 17 2023
The development of offshore renewable energy in Africa is still in its nascent stages, with several solar, wind and tidal projects currently under feasibility studies in countries such as South Africa and Ghana,
Unlike their onshore counterparts which have managed to see several gigawatts of renewable energy installed over the last few years, offshore renewable energy projects have taken significantly longer to gain traction in Africa.
One driving factor for this low uptake is that many African countries already possess abundant onshore renewable energy resources.
Unlike some parts of the world, we enjoy reliable sunlight due to our proximity to the equator and we benefit from vast arid and semi-arid regions, which experience intense sun radiation and wind all year round.
Many African countries also receive reliable seasonal winds like the Monsoon and Harmattan throughout the year, which boosts the supply of wind power.
Given that there are sizeable tracts of land across Africa, which are scarcely populated or uninhabited, there is sufficient capacity to expand onshore applications, before considering offshore options.
In contrast, offshore energy plants have largely had better uptake from countries that lack adequate space for the scale of onshore power generation required to satisfy their energy needs.
Another key factor behind the paucity of offshore energy plants is inadequate financial resources to invest in offshore applications, which tend to be prohibitively expensive.
To illustrate the heavy cost structure, one needs only look at Phase One of the Hornsea offshore wind farm constructed off the East coast of England at a staggering cost of £4.2 billion, which is substantially higher than the cost of an onshore project of the same production capacity (1.2 gigawatts).
African countries also struggle with the technical capacity for research and installation of offshore energy applications.
Offshore technologies including wind, solar, ocean thermal and tidal waves are relatively new modes of renewable energy generation and require extensive research and specialized expertise.
Feasibility studies for offshore plants are complex due to the analysis of scientific data relating to migration patterns for marine wildlife and climate change impacts on water levels.
With many African countries struggling to cover competing needs with limited resources, it is no wonder that the high upfront costs have dampened their appetite for offshore applications.
Despite all the challenges, it may be time for African countries to pay a bit more attention to the potential of offshore sources of energy.
Some of their benefits include reduced land use, greater efficiency — particularly in the case of offshore wind turbines and offshore solar PV projects — and the ability to generate electricity close to coastal cities and towns, thereby reducing transmission and distribution costs.
With the gradual growth of expertise in the area and breakthroughs in research and technological advances, these projects should also become more affordable and can hopefully start to contribute to the energy mix and electricity access for millions on the continent.
Nyabira (Partner), Muigai (Director) and Onyango (Trainee Lawyer) are in the Projects, Energy and Restructuring Practice at IKM Advocates.