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Estimating the Renewable Energy Potential in Africa. A GIS-based approach

Estimating the Renewable  Energy Potential in Africa. A GIS-based approach
By Olga Mackiewicz 27 August 2014 @ 11:56am

This report presents an approach to quantify the power generation potentials for solar and wind energy resources in Africa, as well as an estimation of the  bioenergy potential from selected first-generation biofuel crops. The analysis is based on Geographic Information Systems (GIS) data and has the aim to present a new methodology which can be further refined based on national and local situations and needs.
As a result of the analysis, the maximum technical potential based on geographic constraints will be given on a country-by-country basis for solar energy [both photovoltaic (PV) and concentrated solar power  (CSP)], wind energy and bioenergy production. The  report does not provide an in-depth analysis of specific renewable energy technologies (RETs) but aims to illustrate their potential on a general scale based on available resources and geographic constraints; its results are meant to help stimulate further investigation of specific technologies. Along with serving as a starting point for possible refined analyses, the report seeks to provide a transparent basis for large-scale renewable energy assessments. For this purpose, the underlying data and data-processing methodologies will be made transparent and reproducible. This report estimates the geographic potential of  renewable energy sources by applying a GIS approach.  Such an approach can help to identify the most suitable areas for different RETs within a country, but can also indicate the general suitability of a country with  regard to a specific energy source. This in turn can help policy makers to develop policy incentives for renewable energy sources of the highest potential and enable regional energy planners to appropriately reflect renewable energy contributions in their energy master plans. The results clearly show the renewable energy hotspots which should receive the highest attention when renewable energy support schemes are being addressed or policies being formulated. Aggregated results for regions and countries are presented in the appendices in the form of tables and maps. Generally, investigated resources in this report are available throughout the continent. While wind energy has the largest regional disparities, solar resources have a significant potential in large parts of the continent (except Central African countries due to high levels of precipitation and cloud formation) but with notable differences when applied through different solar technologies – PV or CSP plants.
The bioenergy potential of the continent is substantial  but characterised by extreme disparities between regions – being highest in the equatorial regions and lowest in Northern Africa. Bioenergy crops may seem  attractive as large land areas are still available for cultivation in many countries However, in light of the existing food insecurities and a growing population, this potential must be carefully re-evaluated. This report will only provide a first indication of biofuel suitability on a country level. Given the vast number of different possibilities for using biotic resources as a source of energy, this analysis can only provide an overview about the use of GIS methods to  investigate the suitability of energy plants and their potential contribution to the energy system.
The national results presented in this report are interesting for a number of reasons: firstly, the size of a country naturally has an influence on the expected potential; secondly, the analysis also shows that although
the five African regions (Northern, Western, Southern, Eastern and Central) have relatively similar areas, their overall potential for renewable energy sources is relatively different. This indicates that the regions need different strategies to develop their resources, but at the same time regions can extensively benefit from a better interconnection and increased information exchange of the five regional “power pools”.
The results presented in this report and additional analyses based on alternative GIS layers will be made publicly available and accessible on IRENA’s Global Atlas website ( as well as on  the KTH-dESA website (



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