The power of water in African climate solutions
A big lift is needed if the continent is to feed and power itself from the endangered natural world. Agriculture needs rain, and much electricity can come from water via hydro and geothermal projects. All are undergoing immense change – creating new opportunities.
1. Can new weather-tech boost African crops?
Weather forecasting is key to sustainable agriculture in Africa. And climate change is further increasing that dependency.
But so far African forecasting has been flawed. It is failing farmers ever more as weather patterns become jumbled.
Why is that: Meteorological models used in forecasting were developed in the Global North. They’re not fit for purpose in sub-Saharan Africa.
American and European weather patterns are driven by large-scale temperature and pressure changes.
But in tropical Africa, weather develops on a smaller scale and much more rapidly.
What to do: African monitoring must become more granular to be accurate.
Unlike Global North forecast, it cannot rely on monitoring of 50km grids.
This misses small changes and causes inaccurate predictions.
New products: Weather-tech startups are trying to solve for this, including with AI.
Proven impact: Experts say that accurate forecasts can make the difference between the success and failure of crops.
Yield curve: Industry insiders this week met in Nairobi at the Agrifin event to compare digital solutions.
Ignitia said its new models for the tropics increase accuracy from 39% to at least 84%.
Tomorrownow.org claimed crop yield improve by 10% to 300%.
Why it matters: African agriculture has a massive social and economic footprint.
More than 60% of sub-Saharan Africans are smallholder farmers.
About 23% of sub-Saharan Africa’s GDP comes from agriculture.
The impact: As weather patterns become less favourable, crop and livestock yields generally fall.
For many African crops, a few more degrees difference drastically increases vulnerability.
A 2020 Mckinsey study predicts potentially severe crop failures.
Biggest vulnerability: Rainwater changes are especially painful in Africa. Livestock and crops are 95% rainfed and insurance is almost non-existent.
Better protection: If weather forecasting is to help African farmers to adapt, the continent needs:
Better monitoring infrastructure, including ground stations to feed new models
Adequate communication systems for rapid data exchanges
More qualified meteorological staff to run both
Official help: Governments will need to lean in or change.
In Mali and Sierra Leone, meteorological agencies are monopolies and oppose private involvement.
Reality check: It comes down to money. Investment in the sector is low.
Meteorological services in Africa have on average 25% less cash than elsewhere in the world.
2. How African geothermal power will overtake Europe by 2030
The continent is used to playing catchup in climate solutions. But when it comes to exploiting energy from the earth’s core, Africa is set to take more of a leadership role.
The news: Africa’s geothermal energy sector is on a path of significant growth, says a new report from Rystad, a Norwegian specialist consultancy.
Investments are expected to surpass $35 billion by 2050.
This will boost capacity from the current 1 Gigawatt (GW) to 13 GW.
The first step is a doubling of capacity in the coming seven years, surpassing Europe.
Behind the news: Africa benefits from several factors beyond favourable geology (but that too!).
Growing state initiatives to mitigate risks, such as covering research costs and an AU mitigation facility, attract more private companies.
Decades of experience are starting to pay off. DRC was the third country globally to go geothermal in 1952, and Kenya has since created top expertise.
New technologies, including closed-loop geothermal systems, are making it possible to send water down to the earth’s molten core at ever lower costs.
Geographic spread: More African nations are tapping their geothermal potential, which dwarves total installed capacity today.
Kenya is the current champion and will continue to expand fast.
Ethiopia is the surging crown prince in the sector, see chart above.
The rest of East Africa is following behind, thanks to shared geology.
Going further: A recent study identified 14 promising geothermal areas in Africa, far beyond the current spread. They share geological characteristics suitable for direct heating applications.
Northern countries such as Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia
Atlantic nations such as Liberia and Namibia
Southern countries such as Zambia and South Africa
The skinny: Geothermal energy involves creating steam to power turbines by piping water far below the earth’s surface to heat it.
This makes for extremely dependable power generation, on a par with nuclear energy.
Geothermal is twice as reliable as fossil fuel and wind power, beating solar by 4x.
Reality check: Financial limitations pose a hurdle to geothermal energy growth in Africa.
Drilling a single geothermal well costs $6 million, and setting up a typical 165-megawatt plant is $300 million.
Exploration work is time-consuming, often taking years without a return. Payback periods are on average 13 years.
Big brother: Unsurprisingly, oil companies and hydrocarbon drillers, who are familiar with such economics but fear for their traditional markets, are showing an interest.
Insiders pronounce “Geothermal—a perfect fit for oil and gas players”.
3. Q&A: Climate leader with answers
Anita Soina is a Kenyan climate change activist from the Maasai community. She is the author of the book Green War and the founder of the Soina Foundation.
Q: What’s your most recent climate action? A: I run an initiative called “A tree a child” that offers climate education to learning institutions, and incorporates tree growing. The bigger picture is to encourage officials from local and national governments to become patrons, so they understand the urgency.
Q: What is your earliest conscious memory of the climate crisis? A: I witnessed from a young age rivers drying up, water shortages, droughts, floods… But only later did I understand they are linked.
Q: Who is your greatest role model for climate action? A: Wangari Maathai championed conservation here in Kenya, went through torture and stood firm, built a network of women and youth: Her legacy still lives.
4. Media monitoring
COP28: Progress and tensions appear surrounding the climate "loss and damage" fund ahead of the conference later this month.
Climate bullseye: 17 out of the 20 countries most threatened by climate change are in Africa, according to a UNECA report.
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Thanks to the Green Rising team for putting this together.