Africa is the world’s most “renewable” continent when it comes to energy. In the rich world, renewables account for less than a tenth of total energy supplies. The 900 million people of sub-Saharan Africa (excluding South Africa) get 80 per cent of their energy from renewables.
A person in Europe or North America uses 11,000 kilowatt-hours per year on average (much of it through industrial processes), while a person in Sub-Sahara Africa uses only 137kWh – less than a typical American refrigerator uses in four months. More than 600 million people in Africa have no access to electricity at all.
All this is not because Africa is green, but because it is poor. Some 2 per cent of the continent’s energy needs are met by hydro-electricity, and 78 per cent by humanity’s oldest “renewable” fuel: wood. This leads to heavy deforestation and lethal indoor air pollution, which kills 1.3 million people each year.
What Africa needs, according to many activists, is to be dotted with solar panels and wind turbines. But when US President Barack Obama hosted a summit of African leaders in 2014, most said they wanted more fossil fuels. In the words of Tanzanian Minerals and Energy Minister Sospeter Muhongo: “We will start intensifying the utilisation of coal. Why shouldn’t we use coal when there are other countries where their CO₂ [carbon dioxide] per capita is so high?. We will just go ahead.”