A new push to use energy independence to reduce Africa's poverty levels, sustain the continent’s economic growth and expand clean technologies is gaining momentum, with a number of new alternative energy projects under way in the region.

“Africa is beginning to grow, but the problem of energy insecurity is dampening that growth,” says Obiageli Ezekwesili, World Bank vice president for Africa and a former finance official in Nigeria.

Energy developers, attracted by a liberalized energy sector and new policies encouraging investment, have made inroads into Africa, raising hopes the continent may at last meet its financing and energy security needs and reduce carbon emissions. Sub- Saharan Africa alone needs $27 billion a year to meet its obligations for generating and transmitting power and maintaining the related infrastructure.

The growing list of agreements between Africa's power utilities and energy project developers signals a rebirth of the sector, underfunded for decades after lenders shied away from committing funds in places where there was high-level mismanagement, poor performance and excessive government control.

The embracing of public-private partnerships (P3s) and privatized state power utilities has created new investment opportunities for energy investors and loosened lenders’ purses. This trend has raised hopes of boosting the proportion of Africans accessible to power from the current 31%.

Developers now find it easier to get government guarantees for their projects as well as incentives, such as tax exemptions and letters of credit.

Sun and Wind Power Projects in South Africa

By the end of last year, the World Bank had approved a total of $510 million for South Africa's $3.75-billion Renewables Energy Support Project, implemented by Eskom, the continent's largest electricity producer. It generates, transmits and distributes 95% of South Africa’s power.

The bank will finance implementation of two major renewable-energy projects: the 100-MW Sere wind powerplant located 300 kilometers north of Cape Town and the 100-MW Upington concentrating solar powerplant in northern Cape Province. When completed, the latter will be the world’s largest such plant using central receiver technology.

The tower-and-mirror-designed plant, which will be configured to operate as a base-load unit, will use molten salt as a thermal circulating fluid and storage medium.