Tine Fisker Henriksen has studied African development for almost a decade through volunteering, working and studying on the continent.

Selected articles by Tine

Winds for Change: Can commercial wind farms make a difference in Africa?

By Tine. Posted in Agriculture & The Environment on 3 Feb 2013.

Sub-Saharan Africa has an electrification rate of 30.5% and a rural electrification rate of 14.2%, with 585.2 million people living without access to electricity (IAE 2011). Energy is linked to all aspects of sustainable development such as access to water, agricultural and industrial productivity and health care and is therefore an absolute necessity for poverty reduction (Modi et al 2005). Most academic research on poverty alleviation and renewable energy focuses on small wind turbines and solar panels. However, increasing local inclusiveness in commercial wind development is important as Africa has an untapped potential for wind energy, which is increasingly being recognized by investors, governments, development banks, among others.

Of the top 35 developing countries with the highest total renewable energy reserves, half of them are known to be found in Africa (Naidoo & Bacela 2012). The hubs of wind development currently lie in Ethiopia, Morocco, Kenya and South Africa. Moreover, South Africa aims to take the lead in the African renewable energy industry, which is supported by large players in the industry such as Siemens that has decided to make South Africa its wind energy hub for Africa and the Middle East (Baker 2011).

Frost & Sullivan analyst Ross Bruton predicts that investment in renewable power in Africa is set to grow from only $3.6-billion in 2010, to $57.72-billion by 2020. This is to be accompanied by huge foreign direct investment in energy infrastructure (James 2011).

Some key benefits of wind energy include:

  • Currently wind energy is among the most financially viable renewable energy resources (Arfaoui 2011).
  • Renewable energy industries are considered to be more labour-intensive than fossil-fuels (World-watch Institute 2012).
  • Wind energy is an additional cash crop for landowners such as farmers and ranchers.

In spite of the benefits and the untapped potential of Africa, it is important to focus on maximizing the socio-economic impact of wind development.

In Ethiopia, the Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation (EEPCo) recognizes that local input will be low in the beginning but adds that future technological transfer and capacity building of local staff will cause subsequent wind projects to localise inputs to some extent (Gebreselassie 2011).

In South Africa, the selection criteria for renewable energy projects insists on local content, local ownership and Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment; however, it is currently unclear to what extent the wind development will benefit local communities in the majority of cases. For instance, although many of the potential Independent Power Producers (IPPs) in South Africa meet the local content requirement, they are primarily funded by foreign private capital (Baker 2011). The amount of knowledge, skill and wealth transfer that occurs as a result of these transactions remains uncertain, at best.

Maximizing inclusiveness by establishing local ownership has proven successful in countries such as Germany and Denmark. In Denmark, for example, 80% of the wind energy is generated by community-owned farms, which consist of locals joined in co-operatives. In some African regions, community wind might prove to be difficult due to communal land and low buy-in capacity. Projects in South Africa strive to overcome these challenges, primarily with the support of the Development Bank for Southern Africa that aspires to structure and fund these attempts. Below are two examples that, although not commercial projects, provide inspirational cases that can be built upon for commercial farms.

Other inspirational schemes for maximizing local inclusiveness could be derived from rural communities in West Denmark, where windmills are built around nature parks, thereby attracting tourists by offering renewable energy educational centres combined with remarkable nature experiences (MiM 2010). Many African regions have an exciting wild-life; combining this with renewable energy has the potential to increase the socio-economic impact of wind development in addition to providing a stable energy resource to the communities.


The Tsitsikamma Community Wind Farm consortium plans to generate 40 MW of wind power by 2013 from a R1-billion wind energy project in the Eastern Cape. The consortium is made up by Exxaro, the second-largest coal producer in South Africa, the IPP Watt Energy and the Tsitsikamma Development Trust which operates on behalf of the landowning community hold a 46 per cent stake. The rest, 54 per cent, is held by the Danish Industrialization Fund for Developing countries (IFU) and Danish IPP European Energy.  WATT Energy emphasizes community empowerment, job creation, poverty alleviation and rural development through renewable energy. The project aims to generate economic growth in the area, revenues will be for instance be used for schools and building human capacity (Baker 2011).

Just Energy is funded by Oxfam and is a not-for-profit entity that enables local communities to develop renewable energy projects by partnering with business and engineering firms. Its stated mission is to ensure a fair return on renewable energy for both investors and the local communities. Just Energy is developing wind sites in the Western and Eastern Cape of South Africa in cooperation with a Belgian company and the local community trusts (Just Energy n.d.).


Arfaoui, Y., 2011, ‘Wind Energy in Africa – A Sustainable Business’, in African Development Bank Group, viewed on 15 January 2012, from http://www.afdb.org/en/blogs/energy-strategy/post/wind-energy-in-africa-a-sustainable-business-8332/.

Baker, L., 2011, ‘Governing electricity in South Africa:  wind, coal and power struggles’, The Governance of Clean Development, Working Paper 015, July, Norwich.

Gebreselassie, 2011, ‘Ethiopia: Ashegoda to Include Larger Turbines’, in AllAfrica.com, viewed on 15 January 2012, from http://allafrica.com/stories/201107051127.html.

James, M., 2011, ‘Is Africa set for a Renewable Power Revolution?’, in Frost & Sullivan, viewed on 15 January 2012, from http://www.frost.com/prod/servlet/press-release.pag?Src=RSS&docid=240313856.

Just Energy, n.d., viewed on 31 January 2012, from http://just-energy.org/.

MiM, 2010, ‘Aftale om et nationalt testcenter for store vindmøller i Østerild Klitplantage’ Danish Ministry of the Environment, Working paper.

Modi, V., McDade, S., Lallement, D. & Saghir J., 2005, ‘Energy Services for the Millenium Development Goals’, in United Nations Development Programme, viewed on 30 January 2012, from http://www.unmillenniumproject.org/documents/MP_Energy_Low_Res.pdf.


Naidoo, P., & Bacela, P. A., 2012, ‘A Wealth of Possibilities: Power and Energy in Africa’, Power and Energy Magazine, IEEE10(3), 67-70.

World-watch Institute, 2012, ‘Jobs in Renewable Energy Expanding’, viewed on 15 January 2012, from http://www.afdb.org/en/blogs/energy-strategy/post/wind-energy-in-africa-a-sustainable-business-8332/.

Leave a comment

2 Comments on “Winds for Change: Can commercial wind farms make a difference in Africa?”

  • Brian Bakker March 3rd, 2013 10:54 am

    Interesting but incomplete, utterly irresponsible and unbalanced reporting. This article extols the virtues of wind power and coupling wind farm development with nature parks while completely ignoring the proven problems with such an approach. Consider California, where thousands of wild birds are killed by windmills annually.


  • The Advocate April 16th, 2013 8:05 pm

    I think to say this article is irresponsible is somewhat unbalanced in itself. As you point out Brain bird mortality is an issue with wind farms, and in some instances bats. The actual scale of the impacts are currently not well understood and the importance will depend on location and species involved.

    However, I think if we are going to take a balanced approach around environmental and social impacts of power generation we need to consider the impacts of other options, that in itself is a topic for a article, which hopefully I will get to in the near future.

    What can be said now is that the mining of coal results in significant impacts on water quality and quality in the area potentially for 100s of years to come; don’t go drinking the groundwater in Mpumalanga, especially avoid Carolina and anything underneath Jozi. Significant areas of habitat and potentially a large number of species within the large footprint of the mine are permanently lost. And there are often large social issues in relation to mining on the African continent as 100s to 1000s of people may need to be relocated. Then there is the power station itself which obviously has serious implications for air quality, while providing a very low conversion of the energy stored into electricity.

    Then the other big contenders are hydro and nuclear. Hydro is only feasible for large rivers systems which on this continent will be supporting ecological and human resources. In short damming of such rivers is bad news for the fish, the ecological system and the people who rely on the river.

    In fact nuclear is considered one of the “cleanest” sources of power, but I think we all understand the obvious risk here. Beyond the risk of chernobyl type issues, a nuclear power station will generate large volumes of radioactive waste. Currently the management of this waste is storage in specifically designed facilities that we estimate can manage the radiation for 100 years or so, the issue here is the waste will be radioactive and literally hot for time scales in the 1000s and 10000s of years. We simply have no plan for the waste after that.

    in my view solar is the way forward as it is the only external source of energy the planet has, but this is simply not feasible for large scale electricity production as yet. So we are a way off this solving our issues.

    So wind does provide a source of renewable electricity that is viable of a medium scale electricity generation and I would think is worth consideration on a continent that relies heavily on Coal Fired Power Stations, a process that is clearly sustainable.

    So much to say on this, watch this space,

    The Advocate.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Join us on Facebook Join us on Twitter Join us on Google+