Assessing the Prospect for Wind Power in Africa

Aron Tesfai
December 2, 2016

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2016


Fig. 1: Gouda Wind Facility is one of the largest and most successful wind farms in Africa. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

In almost every economical measure, Africa is the most underdeveloped continent in the world. Despite its rich, vast lands and abundance in various minerals and commodities, Africa has been unable to exploit its resources and utilize them, as many regions that are known to be rich in natural assets have been left untouched. Perhaps the greatest reason why the continent has failed to reach its potential is because there is a large void in the available energy that is needed to scale the operations required to exploit natural resources. [1] Even beyond attaining natural assets, there is an overall energy drought throughout sub-Saharan Africa; a report conducted by McKinsey and Company concluded that "the power sector [throughout Africa] is significantly underdeveloped," finding that the lack of energy access for typical households, companies, and even governments has taken a severe toll on Africa's economy and GDP growth. [1] Ultimately, without constant, sustainable power, society is unable to function at an optimal state where economies can grow and expand. However, by introducing alternative forms of energy, such as wind power, into Africa, sustainable levels of power can be reached that will improve production and overall economic output. [2]

Wind Power Potential

Areas throughout Africa, specifically regions in Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, Morocco, and among others, have been deemed as having some of the highest potentials for wind energy in the world due to consistent and optimal climate conditions. [2] Further, medium-scale projects, like the Gouda Wind Facility in South Africa shown in Fig. 1, have already drawn successful closure energy outputs, and adding to what has already been done, if scaled correctly, can draw greater energy benefits that will outweigh the marginal costs. [1] Further, Africa has been denoted as having the most potential for high economic output due to Wind Power because it offers the unique opportunity of starting renewable energy from low levels of electrification, an opportunity that maximizes the utility of any marginal investment in alternative energy sources. [1] However, in regions that haven't had any investment in renewable energy but are optimal for Wind Power production, like parts of Djibouti, Tanzania, and much of central Africa, a large amount of fixed costs would be incurred that may draw little marginal return in the short run.

Barriers to Wind Power

The greatest barrier to generating Wind Power in Africa isn't environmental or practicality, it's economical. The fact is, establishing wind turbines throughout Africa is immensely costly; the African Development Bank Group estimates that there would be an initial cost of USD 1.8 billion to create a wind generation system that would produce 1.1 GW, energy that is sufficient enough to power over 700,000 homes (with the assumption that one home uses 11,000 kWh per year. [3] While this may seem like a reasonable cost, one that can be covered by private organizations and subsidies from local and national governments, the demographic that this energy would support is not able to afford utility costs. A major reason why a greater number of Africans don't have access to reliable electricity is because the greater population is unable to afford the cost of energy from fossil fuels. [2] Expecting people to let alone afford the cost of renewable energy in many markets would be unrealistic. [3] In other parts of the world, countries like the United States and Germany provide subsidies to people and corporations that invest and renewable energy. However, these are countries that have a large GDP and have already reaped the economical benefits from the fossil fuel industry. Calling on African nations to do the same would be impractical, as the weak economic systems would not be able to sustain such spending on both establishing wind turbines and providing subsidies to those that use it. [3] Thus, although there is great potential to have Wind Power in areas throughout Africa, the initial costs and economic factors of having such a system prevent it from happening in the near future.

© Aron Tesfai. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] A. Castellano et al., "Brighter Africa," McKinsey and Company, February 2015.

[2] "The Dawn of Wind Energy in Africa," ESI Africa, 27 Jun 16.

[3] A. D. Mukasa et al., "Development of Wind Energy in Africa," African Development Bank Group, Working Paper 170, March 2013.