Review of the Challenges Facing the Dissemination of Renewable Energy Technologies in Southern Africa

Review of the Challenges Facing the Dissemination of Renewable Energy Technologies in Southern Africa

Al-Mas Sendegeya1,*, Zivayi Chiguvare2

1Senior Lecturer/Head of Department, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Namibia University of Science and Technology, Windhoek, 13388, Namibia

2Director, Namibia Energy Institute, Namibia University of Science and Technology, Windhoek, 13388, Namibia

* or


The linkage between economic development and modern energy usage has been hypothetically proven by various researchers and scholars. It might be an accepted fact that access to reliable energy services is a requirement for survival of communities, but the provision of modern energy services, especially in a sustainable manner, is crucial for the accelerated development of modern societies. This paper presents a holistic review and analysis of current challenges in the energy sector in Africa. In a bid to increase the proportion of the African population with access to energy, many African governments are making efforts towards increasing electricity generation, implementing, and planning various energy supply projects. Promotion of electricity generation from renewable energy resources, for interconnection to the existing electricity supply grids, is among the options  considered by different countries. The identified challenges facing the energy sector of Sub-Saharan Africa include: increased demand which exceeds supply, lack of awareness of technological options, expensive technologies, cultural beliefs, political instability for specific cases, subsidies on conventional options and none on renewables, sparse population distribution, lack of clear energy information databases, limited skilled human resources and limited training programmes. The need for increased capacity building through training and public awareness is identified as one of the crucial and urgent priorities in the energy sector. This paper proposes strategies that address the issue of sustainable energy development through development of relevant education programmes in the continent. It has been confirmed that there are opportunities to introduce energy education programmes at all levels of education, from primary to tertiary institutional levels. In case of long term and sustainable planning, energy education programs in tertiary institutions should be strengthened by focusing more on postgraduate programmes. Innovative and competitive research must also be emphasised in academic and research institutions. Research and development should be a concerted effort by all key stakeholders including institutions, industry and government. All capacity building programmes and innovative research must be tailored to address all the socio-economic challenges facing the energy sector on the continent.

Keywords: renewable energy; challenges; capacity building


Energy is one of the key driving factors of development in any modern society. It has been globally confirmed that modern energy services contribute to improved healthcare, education, economic opportunities and, even, longer life. The continuous population growth and need for economic development are among the key drivers for increased energy demand. According to the World Bank, many people worldwide still lack access to modern energy services, such as electricity. In Africa, support for provision of sustainable energy services, towards increased electrification rates, is becoming a priority to governments and development partners. According to the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) Africa Energy Outlook (2014) more than 620 million people in Africa have no access to electricity, and nearly 730 million people use hazardous, inefficient forms of cooking, and this impacts negatively on the wellbeing of, especially, women and children.

It is the responsibility of African governments to promote sustainable energy policies that spur economic growth and environmental protection in their countries. In this regard the Governments must show commitment to building their economies, and improving the quality of life of all the people. Some governments have clearly stipulated the goals gearing towards national development, which among them include: sustainable economic growth; employment creation; reduced inequalities; and poverty eradication. The achievement of these goals depends on the availability of reliable and sustainable modern energy services. However, there are still various policy challenges (institutional and developmental) in the energy sector that are still limiting the commitment by some governments to develop and promote the use of the available energy resources. The institutional challenges should be properly addressed in order to overcome the development challenges. One of the institutional challenges is the “human resource development and public awareness to ensure skilled human capacity”. Sustainable development of energy resources, and utilisation of energy, heavily depends on the skills and appropriate education of the human resource.

This article is part of the outcomes of the Southern Africa Sustainable Energy Initiative (SASEI) project implemented by Namibia University of Science and Technology working with three other partner institutions in the region – University of Botswana, and National University of Lesotho, and Technische Hochschule Darmstadt from Germany. 

Sustainable Energy Programme

A sustainable energy programme refers to the strategies put in place towards the development, provision and utilisation of clean energy that meets the needs of present society without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their energy needs. This includes the promotion of sustainable energy policies that can spur economic growth while protecting the environment. Throughout the energy chain (resource development, generation, delivery, consumption and decommissioning) environmentally friendly mechanisms and technologies are given utmost priority. Globally, the significant driving forces for the adoption of sustainability in the energy chain include: fluctuating and drastic increases in prices, and deteriorating reserves of conventional fuels (oil, natural gas, uranium and coal). In developing countries, increases in prices of fossil fuels have negative economic consequences. The situation is worse especially in countries already overwhelmed with poverty, whereby the challenge is to choose between fuel and food, health care, education and other essentials.

Priorities and Challenges

Under the Energy Sector Needs Assessment activities various documents and key stakeholders in the energy sector were consulted in three African countries - Lesotho, Botswana and Namibia. The methodology used to gather information included interviews with stakeholders, administering needs assessment questionnaires, and conducting stakeholders’ workshops. The consultations focused on identifying national priorities, challenges and appropriate solutions in the energy sector. It is the mandate of academic institutions to identify possible solutions to contribute to the development of human capital and knowledge dissemination. This can easily be accomplished by identifying the national needs and develop academic programmes relevant to the regional developmental needs, without compromising the socio-economic aspects of the communities.


African Governments are mandated to show commitment to build their economies, and improving the quality of life of the population. Some countries are envisaging transforming into industrialised nations with a viable natural resourcesbased export sector, and increased size of skillsbased industrial and service sectors, and market oriented production. The development of the industrial sector, of course, depends on a number of factors, whereby provision of reliable and sustainable energy services and availability of skilled man-power are vital.

The development of the energy sector requires skilled and competent human resources. Though there is no evidence to justify and quantify the availability of energy experts on the continent, the scanty information available indicates that the continent does not have sufficient skilled man-power to support the energy sector and to meet the anticipated industrial development. With the increasing global concern on environmental issues resulting from energy use, the sustainable development and use of energy focuses more on local resources, especially renewable resources, given the highest priority. 


Increase demand for modern energy services: There is an increasing energy demand due to industrialisation and efforts by governments put on increasing rural electrification. This puts pressure on the Governments to meet the increasing demand by importing and subsidising more conventional resources. There are huge challenges to overcome while developing and exploiting the local generation capacity, which seem to be slow due to mega capital base required.

Limited skilled human resource: It has been realised that there is limited skilled human resource in the energy sector to address the rapid growing sector. Development of the energy sector depends on the availability of sufficient skilled man-power in the sector. Unfortunately there are still very few higher learning institutions offering specialised energy training on the continent. A number of experts are trained in developed nations where they don’t focus appropriately to the needs of their communities. Some of the experts trained off-continent may end up gaining skills only to promote technologies developed outside the continent. However, they may fail to focus on innovative ideas to solve the regional needs by utilising the locally available resources sustainably without compromising the socio-cultural setting of the communities.

Lack of energy information database: A number of energy projects have been planned, implemented, and developed and in the region. These projects are either privately operated or initiated by the governments. The limited data on energy status in most countries that can be accessed by the public is at government departments. Not all the available information is presented in appropriate formats, or easily useable, for the envisaged purposes. Also not all information about the energy situation and projects is available at the relevant government agencies. There is fragmented information about the number of stakeholders in the energy sector, and not all projects implemented are properly coordinated. There is a need to investigate the possibility to have a one stop-centre for properly formatted and documented data in each country.

Limited public awareness: It has been realised that a significant size of the population does not have access to accurate and sufficient information about issues of sustainable energy. To ensure successful promotion of sustainable energy programmes all stakeholders (public, government, business and industry) should reliably access relevant information, e.g., about availability, costs and opportunities in sustainable energy technologies.

Socio-Cultural challenges: The social and cultural settings of most African communities differ from most parts of the world where the technologies are developed. The introduction of any technology without understanding the socio-cultural background of the communities may negatively be accepted. Most renewable energy technologies are failing to survive because of this complex arrangement. For example, the wide use of solar cookers and biogas technologies are hampered by cultural beliefs and accepted cultural cooking methods. 

Proposed Strategy

With reference to the key challenges facing the energy sector in Africa, it is necessary to consider long term possible solutions of the sector. We propose that developing appropriate, sustainably managed academic programmes tailored to the region, will be essential for capacity building. For the development of sustainable energy resources, systems and technologies there is a need have reliable data in appropriately organised formats. 

The strengthening of capacity building should follow the complete energy chain start from policy level down to the final beneficiaries. In case of planned academic programmes, it is envisaged that these programmes should focus on the following priority areas:

  • Energy governance and policy: accessibility to sustainable energy and energy security; linkages between energy, society, culture, development and environment; and energy resources, technologies and applications.
  • Advisory services: support Energy Sector Governance, both public and private, through quality advisory services
  • Developing and managing an Energy Database or Repository: A one-stop centre for all energy related issues in the country is necessary. The project would facilitate the development of an open access data centre which coordinates all energy related activities including collecting data on available resources, existing projects, planned projects, expertise in various areas of energy, etc.
  • Public awareness: Increasing and enhancing the quality of public awareness programmes.

Academic Approach

The current practice in the region is that industries, organisations and institutions are forced to send their staff members (e.g., engineers and scientists) outside the continent to attend postgraduate programmes (e.g. Masters) and specialised courses, because they cannot find appropriate programmes locally. While such courses upgrade technical knowledge, they may be not appropriate in that the socio-cultural, economic and industrial circumstances in the countries of training are very different from those in Africa.  This results in a mismatch between training acquired and the needs of continent.  Also sending of people to train outside has a negative impact on the national economy, i.e., it is costly and industries lose productive time when staff members are off their work places for long periods. Locally developed and run well-designed postgraduate programmes are necessary to upgrade technical knowledge with emphasis on local needs and problems. 


Energy is among the key driving factors of development in any modern society. It has been globally confirmed that modern energy services contribute to improved healthcare, education, economic opportunities and, even, longer life. The success, implementation and sustainability of the development of Africa’s abundant energy resources will depend on the approaches adopted by governments in Africa to address the challenges facing the energy sector. There is a need to focus on identifying priorities that support the development goals of the individual countries.  It should be noted that education is the key input in the development and implementation of any programme. Capacity building of the population can play a significant role in the success of the energy sector on the continent. The availability of well trained and skilled man-power will contribute to the achievement of government development goals. A lot has been written about the need for green energy programmes, and the challenge is left to the African governments to implement the ideas. There is a need for the countries in Africa to look into special energy training programmes at all levels of education. The programmes must be tailored to address the socio-cultural and economic facts of Africa. We propose that, as other basic human needs, “Access to sustainable energy services should be declared a human right”. 

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