Africa’s developing economies have a choice to make between using fossil fuels or renewable energy.
For many developed countries, there was a recognisable progression in how they generated energy at different phases of development, with a stage of reliance on coal-burning as a seemingly inevitable first step towards a more advanced economy.
In some cases, it’s possible for a developing economy to “leapfrog” over coal dependence entirely, moving instead to renewables.
That’s excellent news not just for the people of those countries, who will get spared the health risks associated with burning fossil fuels, but also the world — because as Africa starts to boom, as many predict, it could be a disaster in terms of worsening climate change.
Most people in Africa live without any electricity whatsoever, and as most of the continent continues to grow economically, one of the big priorities will be to ensure that those people get full access to energy. Which means governments are going to have to decide how it will be generated.
So far, there seems to be an encouraging trend towards opting for renewables. And why not? They’re relatively cheap, and they don’t involve vast emissions of greenhouse gases.
You might be wondering whether it’s possible to generate enough renewable energy for all those people, or if fossil fuels will need to get mixed with renewables as a hybrid solution.
This process — of skipping over a step in the development process that previously seemed inevitable — is known as leapfrogging, and it’s probably one of the only cool things about lagging in development.
So for example, in many developing countries where people did not have access to good telephone infrastructure, the seemingly necessary stop of connecting the country with phone lines was “leapfrogged” by instead switching to cell phone technology from the start.
We’ll have to wait and see how this all works out – and there’s no doubt that coal, oil, and natural gas are continuing to play a role in Africa. But it looks likely that renewables will play the dominant position in the coming years ahead.