New renewable energy solutions provided by Huawei on display in Cape Town, South Africa in May 2017
In a remote village of southwest Ethiopia's Omer River Valley, about 1,800 km away from the capital city of Addis Ababa, the light of knowledge shines out of darkness - quite literally.
In the shabby classrooms of local elementary schools, even the most basic lighting facilities are not available. Often, students have no choice but to take classes in the open courtyards.
In fact, even in big cities such as Addis Ababa, power outages are common occurrences. More than 600 million Africans still live without electricity and most families use traditional biomass as cooking fuel, according to the World Bank. Power shortages in over 30 African countries have resulted in major outages and over-reliance on quick temporary solutions that are both expensive and harmful to the environment.
"Africa loses roughly about 4 to 5 percent of its GDP because of its weak energy infrastructure," said Akinwumi Adesina, President of the African Development Bank. Liu Zhenya, Chairman of the Global Energy Interconnection Development and Cooperation Organization, noted that, in fact, Africa has abundant renewable energy resources, which can play a major role in resolving its energy shortage. He said that Africa's energy industry has a great potential, as the continent accounts for 10 percent, 32 percent, and 40 percent of global hydropower, wind power and solar energy reserves, respectively.
Without universal electricity access, Africa, says Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, will not be able to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. He said Ethiopia has made clear that renewable energy can be a key driver of economic development, emphasizing on sustainable clean energy as an integral part of the country's as well as the continent's economic restructuring.
Opportunity for cooperation
Renewable energy set out an important direction for China and Africa to further deepen bilateral cooperation, according to experts.
While attending the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation Johannesburg Summit in South Africa in late 2015, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced a number of green development cooperation projects, which see China support Africa in enhancing its green, low-carbon and sustainable development capability, and help implement 100 programs on clean energy, wildlife protection, environmentally-friendly agriculture and smart city construction.
Africa needs investment in clean energy to improve local quality of life and tackle climate change. Already, Chinese companies have been carrying out clean energy projects, exploring Africa's resource wealth to help the continent increase its access to electricity. The projects leverage some of the solar, biogas, and hydropower potential of the continent. In some parts of the continent, regional networks of energy are taking shape.
Ethiopia's Gibe III Dam project is among a number of clean energy projects helping Africa realize industrialization and urbanization in an efficient way.
Dongfang Electric Corp. supplied the mechanical and electrical equipment at Gibe III Dam, which generates 6 billion kWh annually, doubling Ethiopia's installed capacity. As a result, the number of power outages in Addis Ababa continues to decrease.
Apart from meeting the growing energy demand of the country, the dam improved power grid interconnection with neighboring countries. Eugenio Zoppis, Project Manager of Gibe III, emphasizes the value of the project. "It will give us the possibility of having more reliable power for domestic industrial purposes; and in the near future, it will enable interconnection with the power grids of Ethiopia and Kenya."
From an environmental point of view, he added, it is a sound project that has been very well handled and managed for both the present and the future.
Besides, the Adama II Wind Farm, currently Africa's second largest of its kind, is the first wind power project totally using Chinese technology, standards and equipment.
But it is not enough to generate energy; it is more important to bring it where it is most needed, according to insiders. For this purpose, an electricity transmission expressway has been built in Ethiopia, laying a solid foundation for energy interconnection throughout East Africa.
The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, constructed by China Electric Power Equipment and Technology Co. Ltd. (CET), a subsidiary of State Grid Corp. of China, has set the record for establishing the longest transmission path, the highest voltage level, and the greatest output capacity in East Africa. The dam not only improved energy distribution and power network structure in Ethiopia, but also helped the country supply neighboring countries with clean energy.
Ethiopia is known in the region as the "East African water tower." "What the Ethiopian people have long aspired to is to transform their rich water resources into electric power, and then export it to neighboring countries," said Liu Qiang, an official at CET's African Affairs Department. He believes that the transformation will be of great significance to Ethiopia and to the whole of East Africa once the "water tower" becomes an "electric tower."
"The localization level of the equipment used in the projects has reached 100 percent. China's design, skills and standards are getting more and more acknowledged globally," he added.
Vision of interconnectivity
Seleshi Bekele, Ethiopia's Minister of Water, Irrigation and Electricity, said that global energy interconnection offers tremendous opportunities.
"We have worked with Chinese companies to build hydropower stations and power transmission networks, and now we have a steady supply of electricity, greatly enhancing our competitiveness," he said.
More reliable electricity not only satisfies the demand of domestic industrialization, but also has been exported to countries such as Djibouti and Sudan, he added. Energy interconnection, serving as a powerful driving force of Africa's regional economic development, is taking shape, as more and more power is being exported to more African nations like Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi.
"China's experience in clean energy development and utilization can provide sustainable solutions for Africa and boost its green growth, through a series of demonstration projects, capacity building, and financial platform building," Shi Dinghuan, Chairman of China Renewable Energy Society told ChinAfrica.
By 2050, Africa could produce 3.3 billion mWh of clean energy and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 2.8 billion metric tons annually, said Liu Zhenya.
"Through extensive development of clean energy, and construction of large-scale power grids, Africa's energy penetration will be upgraded to fundamentally address the problem of the lack of electricity, while boosting cleaner development," said Liu.