Making Africa’s energy transition happen

Why and How PUTTRU has made Africa’s energy transition a priority

‘Making Africa’s energy transition happen: Why and How PUTTRU has made Africa’s energy transition a priority’ is a two-part article. This first part uses the IEA report on ‘Net Zero by 2050: A Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector’ to set the context. Specifically, to illustrate the sort of ambition needed for a net zero emission future, and why the low level of investment in Africa’s energy sector should be everyone’s concern, if a global NZE future is to be.


On 18 May 2021, the International Energy Agency (IEA) released its special report on Net Zero by 2050: A Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector.

The report analyses different scenarios to 2050, including its NZE (net zero emissions) scenario, which would enable the world to meet the goal of limiting global temperature to 1.5 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels[1]. The 1.5 degree Celsius limit is required to avert major, future catastrophic impacts of climate change.

The report therefore calls for an overhaul (largely) of the current energy system, covering the energy sector itself, transport, industries, and buildings, to one that prioritizes renewable energies and technologies that remove CO2 emissions from the atmosphere, such as carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) technology, green hydrogen as well as behavioural changes (IEA, 2021a).   

Global warming and what these numbers mean

Basically, the earth’s temperature has grown warmer, and anthropogenic activities (human led actions) have played a significant role. We know this because, due to industrialization, the earth’s temperature is 1.0 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels (IPCC, 2018).

Furthermore, the intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC), reports with high confidence that at the current pace global temperature will get to 1.5 degrees Celsius between 2030 and 2052 (IPCC, 2018). While there will be negative impacts on the environment and human welfare at a 1.5 degrees Celsius global temperature, the situation will be more devastating at 2 degrees Celsius. Thus, the necessity of ensuring that we do not overstep 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Our concern, i.e., economies, households, and businesses, is therefore how to enjoy high levels of economic growth (or maintain one) without further increase in global temperature – otherwise known as decoupling economic growth from carbon emissions.

NZE scenario- Summaries from Net Zero by 2050: A Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector

NZE essentially means a huge reduction of emissions. IPCC (2018, p. 13) defines it as “anthropogenic emissions reduced by anthropogenic removals”.

For IEA (2021a) Net Zero “means a huge decline in the use of fossil fuels” and of course carbon removal technologies, as captured in the aforementioned IPCC report.

Africa, as a continent, is generating more of its electricity using the cleanest fossil fuel (natural gas), whereas, globally, coal is the No. 1 fuel used for electricity generation.

IEA (2021a) builds on the work done by IPCC (2018) to essentially answer the question: what should exist in order to achieve our global energy goals by 2030, i.e., the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7 goal of universal energy access by 2030, without overshooting 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Although referred as a pathway, not the pathway by the IEA report, the NZE scenario calls for a green electricity take-over (of which 90% will be generated from renewables) whereby this fuel (electricity) becomes the primary fuel used in sectors like transport and buildings.

By 2050, all cars worldwide are powered by electricity or fuel cells, including heavy trucks. Currently, electric vehicles (EV) account for 4.6% of car sales in 2020, and for heavy trucks 0.1% in 2020 for fuel cell or EV (IEA, 2021a).

In the building sector, electricity usage should jump from 33% in 2020 to 66% in 2050, with buildings, globally, using the most efficient appliances on the market from 2035, according to IEA (2021a) report.

For industries, the big changes will come from CCUS, hydrogen and electrolyser (for generating green hydrogen at industrial sites).  

For fossil fuels, NZE requires that no new oil and gas fields, as well as coal mines be developed, except those already approved in 2021.

This green electricity take-over would require, amongst others, installation of solar PV at a rate that is “equivalent to installing the world’s current largest solar park roughly every day”, says the report (IEA, 2021a; p. 14).

Where is Africa in all these?

Developing and emerging economies are not exempted from the NZE big jumps that must be made in the energy, transport, industrial and building sectors.

Countries in Africa, largely falling under the ‘Other Developing and Emerging economies’, are also supposed to experience the green electricity take-over, adopt use of the most energy efficient appliances in buildings, adopt EV or fuel cell powered vehicles and, of course, install carbon removal technologies in industries, if the global carbon emission reduction goals are to be experienced in the sectors aforementioned.

In addition to these, African countries are expected to introduce carbon prices starting from 2025 as shown in the table below:

Table: CO2 prices for electricity, industry, and energy production

USD(2019) per tonne of CO22025203020402050
Advanced economies75130205250
Selected emerging market and developing economies*4590160200
Other emerging market and developing economies3153555
 *Includes China, Russia, Brazil and South Africa. Source: (IEA, 2021a, p.53)

Such big-jumps initiatives are great opportunities for Africa, a continent that has already made significant leaps towards a low-carbon economy.

According to IEA’s data[2], the continent as a whole, is generating more of its electricity using the cleanest fossil fuel (IEA, 2021b). Whereas globally, coal is the No. 1 fuel used for electricity generation (IEA, 2021b).

Making Africa’s energy transition happen
Making Africa’s energy transition happen

While it is true that compared to fossil fuels, renewable energy installations do have high upfront costs (hence, the attractiveness of carbon prices), many African countries have joined the rest of the world in pursuing high ambitions for increasing renewable energy contributions in their energy mix.

At the regional level and/or country levels, African countries have committed themselves to meeting the SDG 7 goals, including the use of new renewables (solar and wind), in addition to hydro. Moreover, some of these countries have developed (and tested at some scale) institutional reform instruments on feed-in tariff, net-metering, and others to promote renewable energy[3], similar to what has been used in European countries to increase renewable energy uptakes.

The Economic Community of West Africa (ECOWAS), for example, has had the ECOWAS Renewable Energy Policy and ECOWAS Energy Efficiency Policy since 2013, when these policies were adopted by the heads of state of the 15 member states. On the social inclusion and gender equity/equality front, ECOWAS is the first regional economic commission (REC), globally, to have a dedicated policy on how energy transition should create equal opportunities for men and women – ensuring that West African women are beneficiaries and active participants at the policy making level, energy suppliers’ level and energy consumers’ level. The ECOWAS Policy for Gender Mainstreaming in Energy Access was adopted by the heads of state in 2017 – years before the Global Commission on People-Centred Clean Energy Transitions was established on 26 January 2021, with objectives to examine “equity and inclusion issues, including gender equality”, in the clean energy transition dialogue (IEA, 2021c).

Furthermore, just recently, 3 June 2021, led by the African Union Commission (AUC), Africa launched the AfSEM – Africa Single Electricity Market. To become “one of the largest electricity markets in the world”, AfSEM is expected to play a key role in achieving universal energy access in Africa as well as decarbonizing the electricity sector (AUC, 2021).

These are only a few examples from the continent.

Thus, while the continent, specifically sub-Saharan Africa, may be facing an energy supply and energy security challenge, countries are not just pursuing energy access, but access that is in tune with the global energy transition.

Unfortunately, more attention is given to the energy poverty challenge in the region and not to the fact that the continent has a cleaner electricity sector, compared to the overall global statistics, and that bold policy innovations are taking place, despite the low level of investment flowing into Africa’s energy sector.

It is important to stress here that many of the policy innovations in the continent, cited in this article, have happened through North- South collaborations, and such collaborations will make a global NZE future possible.

Concluding Part 1

One key takeaway from this article is that there is no question of Africa’s readiness for an NZE future. This may not look like the NZE in the IEA report (which rightly notes that its NZE is a pathway, not the pathway). 

Nevertheless, the question is how much the rest of the world is ready for a global net zero emission (as we all know, when it comes to climate change, the world is definitely a global village).

The IEA report notes that, for NZE to happen, looking at electricity generation alone, “annual investment increases from about USD 0.5 trillion over the past five years to USD 1.6 trillion in 2030″ (IEA 2021, p.153).

Considering that SSA is the region where most people do not have electricity, this is where the larger part of investment for new infrastructure to meet a global NZE should go.

It is important to stress here that many of the policy innovations in the continent, cited in this article, have happened through North- South collaborations, and such collaborations will make a global NZE future possible.

In the next article we will be covering a little more on where the opportunities lie for investment in Africa, as a catalyst of a global NZE. Furthermore, how we at PUTTRU are doing our bit to make Africa the catalyst for a global NZE. 

[1] See IPCC (2018) special report on Global Warming of 1.5 °C available at: SR15_SPM_version_report_LR.pdf (

[2] See Data Tools at:

[3] See Ghana Renewable Energy Act (2011), Requirements for electricity generation; See EU (2016) for Cabo Verde, Policy for net metering and PURA (2012): The Gambia: New Renewable Energy Law and Feed-in Tariff Rules and UNIDO (2013): Feed-in Tariff Model and Standard PPA.

Reference List

IEA (2021a). Net Zero by 2050: A Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector. Available at:

IEA (2021b). Data tools: Available at:

IEA (2021c). The Global Commission on People-Centred Clean Energy Transitions. Available at:

IPCC (2018). Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 °C: A Summary for Policymakers. Available at:

AUC (2021). Concept Note: launching of the African single electricity market (AfSEM). Download here.

Ghana (2011). Ghana Renewable Energy Act. Available at:

EU (2016): Download here.

PURA (2012): The Gambia: New Renewable Energy Law and Feed-in Tariff Rules. Available at:

UNIDO (2013): Feed-in Tariff Model and Standard PPA. Available at:

Clean EnergyEnergy TransitionIEAIPCCLow carbon economyNet Zero Emissions

Monica Maduekwe

Monica is the founder of PUTTRU. She has several years of experience promoting sustainable energy markets in West Africa. She has an extensive knowledge of the energy landscape, which she has gained through her work as programme officer for resource mobilisation and project development, and, prior to that, a renewable energy programme officer both at the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (ECREEE). She has M.Sc. in Energy Studies with Specialisation in Energy and the Environment, from CEPMLP, University of Dundee, Scotland, U.K.

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