The Uneven Renewable Energy Transition Playing Out in Africa

Joseph Dana
4 min readJan 25, 2022
The west coast of South Africa

The west coast of South Africa is a barren slice of inhospitable land at the bottom of the continent. Less than an hour driving outside Cape Town, the terrain radically transforms into a rugged and nearly alien landscape. Arid vegetation abruptly meets the frigid waters of the Atlantic ocean. This unlikely slice of Earth has become a backdrop for the global shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

The way we generate and consume energy is changing. Thanks to impressive technological advancements, the cost of producing and using renewable energy from sources like the sun and the wind has dramatically fallen. This giant leap is changing the fossil fuel business. Soon, it will make more fiscal sense for companies to invest in renewable energy than fossil fuels. Considering the gravity of the climate challenges we face, this is incredible news for the future of human civilization. Virtually every scientific organization in the world agrees that we need to curb our oil consumption to halt global warming.

The exponential growth of renewable energy appears to be just what we need to get the situation under control. However, the transition isn’t as fast as it might appear on the surface or as described in the mainstream media. We still have an enormous amount of work to do regarding our dependence on fossil fuels.

The surging price of Brent crude oil is a testament to the centrality of fossil fuels to the global economy. While fossil fuels companies say they are willing to embrace the renewable energy transition, many are still compelled by the profits derived from selling oil and gas. Many experts believe the world’s demand for oil has still not peaked.

Norway is an excellent example of this paradox in action. The Scandinavian country has led the world in transitioning to electric vehicles over the last decade. More than 90 percent of passenger vehicle registrations in Norway are now electric. That’s incredible. While Norway might be embracing electric cars at home, the country is still heavily reliant on hydrocarbons as a source of export revenue. In 2020, crude oil was one of the most important export commodities from the Norwegian economy. Norway is trying to have its cake and eat it too.

Joseph Dana