Africa’s unrealised solar potential

Africa has 60% of the world’s solar potential but generates 2% of the total solar power

By Gemma Ritchie
Monday, September 18, 2023

Image: Dall.E

South Africa was the 20th largest solar power producer in the world in 2021. Granted, the 6.65 terawatt hours (TWh) it generated is tiny in comparison with the 327TWh China produced that year, and it has a long way to go to even get into the ranks of top 10 solar generators. Nonetheless, it’s the only African country on the list.

Africa is seriously underachieving given that the continent has 60% of the world’s solar potential, according to the International Energy Agency.

South Africa generated close to 40% of the 17.12TWh of solar power generated in Africa in 2021. Even the continent as a whole wouldn’t have made it onto the top 10. Egypt is Africa’s next biggest solar power producer, its 4.8TWh was 28% of the continent’s output and Morocco’s 1.8TWh made up 11%. Coal dominates South Africa’s energy mix (86%). Egypt uses gas-power stations for 83% of its energy.

African imports of solar panels from China increased rapidly in 2023, driven largely by South Africa, according to the latest data released by Ember. Ember tracks Chinese customs data on solar panel exports. Chinese exports of panels account for around 80% of the global solar panel market

SA imported panels equivalent to 3.7GW in the first 7 months of 2023.

Africa generates less solar power than far smaller regions such as Oceania (31.77TWh) and Latin America (50.55TWh). It even generated less than some countries in Europe, such as Italy (25TWh) and Spain (27TWh). In 2021 France generated almost as much as the whole of Africa (15.7TWh).