Sub-Saharan Africa is at a crucial juncture in shaping its energy future: while two-thirds of its population lack access to electricity, the continent is projected to surpass China’s oil demand growth by 2040. Marine renewable energy (MRE), with far less intermittency than other renewable resources, can potentially contribute to sustainably electrifying Africa in the long term. However, the technology has been adopted by few countries worldwide, and there are no comprehensive studies of its potential in Africa, despite seemingly promising environmental conditions in the ocean, estuaries, and rivers of Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA).
This paper discusses the potential for MRE electricity generation in ESA, and how to overcome some of the barriers to its development and implementation. The discussion addresses the concerns that are often associated with electricity generation in developing countries, such as equity, accessibility, and affordability. An analysis of the energy mix in the ESA region shows that MRE could fill some of the electricity supply gaps. The largest barriers to MRE are not technological, but rather linked to policy design and financing capacity. Three complementary solutions are outlined to set a working framework for MRE deployment in ESA: short-term, small-scale hydrokinetic river projects with public or private financing (similar to microgrid and off-grid solar projects); long-term, large-scale tidal projects with public and concessional financing (similar to geothermal power generation); and capacity building to ensure the employment of local citizens.