Engineers fix wires to solar panels at the Roha Dyechem solar plant at Bhadla, some 225 kilometers north of Jodhpur in the western Indian state of Rajasthan. Photo: AFP / Money Sharma

Recently, India entered a strategic partnership with the International Energy Agency. “India will have a critical role in shaping the world’s energy and climate future,” said the executive director of the IEA.

Now, India will see great potential in creating renewable energy and must partner up with other countries in this space. Africa has been seeing positive developments, mainly in its solar energy expansion. The two regions seem to have a great future ahead of them and could create greater results by cooperating. 

South Africa and Egypt are leading the race as big solar powers in the continent. The two are also the only countries to be a part of the solar “gigawatt club” – nations with the capacity to produce 1GW of solar power.

However, according to the annual Africa Solar Outlook Report of 2021, more countries, namely Algeria, Zimbabwe, Angola, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Morocco and Botswana, to name a few, are hiking up their solar capacities. The potential of hydrogen is also being recognized as a crucial tool in the global solar market with a promise to meet cleaner-energy goals.  

Other sweeping changes include the construction of floating solar panels formed by Africa’s hydropower dams that could potentially double African hydropower capacity and act as a new power-generation source.

Hydropower accounts for about 90% of electricity generation in smaller nations such as Ethiopia, Mozambique and Zambia. Such developments are vital in areas that suffer from inadequate power-generating capacity.

Why partnership is beneficial for both

After South Asia, Africa is the second-largest recipient of Indian funds, with lines of credit worth nearly US$10 billion reserved for projects in more than 100 countries. The minister of external affairs in India, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, has also previously mentioned that India is “one of the biggest investors in the continent,” amounting to about $54 billion. 

Such an inflow of income can contribute toward infrastructure development and finances for resources, the two biggest hindrances in Africa’s renewable energy space. With considerable financial and technical assistance from India, Africa can be one of the top players in the energy field.

More important, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is transparent in its policy toward Africa. In his 2018 speech in Uganda, one of the principles mentioned by Modi as part of India’s engagement with Africa was the need to address challenges of climate change and adopt efficient energy sources.

Cross-border energy trade is a crucial agenda of the Modi government’s neighborhood-first policy. India’s attitude toward Africa thus reflects a long-standing commitment. 

The formation of new relationships indicates an increased scope for collaboration in the energy field. For example, Ghana has expressed interest in tying up with India in the nuclear-energy space and is on the lookout for investors to expand in this area. India could be a prime candidate focusing on technology-sharing, supply of raw materials, availability of uranium and the sharing of common experiences.

Both India and Africa are new to nuclear technology, so a collaboration here could set the bar high for contending powers in the nuclear space. 

Meanwhile, in Malawi and The Gambia, India has planned to create solar-power parks to meet electricity needs and demands in these countries. The project is being undertaken by one of India’s largest power corporations, the National Thermal Power Corporation Ltd (NTPC).

The engagement of public and private Indian enterprises in Africa is something that India should maintain to develop closer connections to the continent and reap its benefits. Being part of international treaties like the International Solar Alliance (ISA) is a massive boost for Indo-African relations and India’s position as an emerging solar power in the world order.

The NTPC has already landed project management consultancy contracts for developing solar parks in Togo, eyeing opportunities in Sudan, Mozambique, Egypt, Uganda, Rwanda and Niger, and the ISA members. Mauritius and Kenya too have encouraged Indian cooperation concerning solar energy. 

What India gains

For India, the key benefit lies in reformulating its strategy to become an important influence in the African continent. As a member of ISA and helping NTPC secure energy project contracts in Africa, the main objective of New Delhi is to mobilize its presence in the region and compete against China.

The ISA is viewed as a foreign-policy tool for India to secure deeper involvement. With China ramping up its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) strategy across Africa, NTPC aims to try and achieve a role as a key consultant to the African member countries of ISA.  It is also trying to lead against China in funding by setting up a World Solar Bank to achieve $50 billion annually. 

In terms of resources, Africa’s abundance of natural resources provides long-term economic benefits for countries seeking it. The potential of the continent to develop renewable energy is immense. It is an instant attraction for Indian entrepreneurs who are looking to invest in the energy sector. 

Overall, with climate change ravaging the Earth, the demand for green energy sources and solutions is rising now more than ever. Much more collaboration is needed among Indian and African partners.

More than 25% of Africa’s total energy will come from geothermal, hydropower, solar and wind by 2040. It is the perfect time for India to bolster relations and work together to revise energy flow and consumption across the world.   

Ameera Rao

Ameera Rao is a research assistant at the Takshashila Institution, a public-policy think-tank based in Bangalore.