Africa has abundant sunshine, with most regions enjoying over 300 days of sunshine per year. But how much solar potential does the continent have, and what is the state of solar energy deployment? In this article, we will look at Africa’s solar energy potential and its current landscape.
Solar energy potential in Africa
With an annual average solar irradiation of 2,119 kilowatt hours per square meter (kWh/m2), the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) estimates Africa’s solar technical potential to be around 7,900GW (assuming a 1% land-utilization factor). In fact, the continent is home to 60% of the best solar resources in the world.
Is Africa leading the world in solar energy production?
- Despite the favorable weather conditions, the International Energy Agency (IEA) reports that only 1% of the world’s installed solar PV capacity is in Africa. According to IRENA’s Renewable Capacity Statistics 2022, Africa’s solar PV installed capacity in 2022 was 11 GW (11,556 MW) compared to the world’s PV installed capacity of 1,046 GW (1,046,614 MW) (Table 1).
- Within Africa, solar production today is concentrated in a few countries — in 2020, over 70% of installed solar capacity was in South Africa and Egypt. Still, the continent’s fastest-growing renewable energy source is solar, with 10.4 GW (9.4 GW solar photovoltaic; 1 GW concentrated solar power) of solar added in the past decade.
Table 1: Renewable energy installed capacity in 2022
|Worldwide (MW)||Africa (MW)|
|Total renewable energy||3,371,793||58,783|
|Solar photovoltaic (PV)||1,046,614||11,556|
|Concentrated solar power||6,501||1,085|
Off-grid solar energy systems in Africa
- What makes Africa unique is that there is also a growing off-grid solar energy sector. According to IRENA, nearly 60% of the world’s off-grid solar energy systems — about 517 MW of 890 MW — are installed in Africa, bringing light to over 73 million people in the continent.
- In the off-grid solar sector, there are mainly three types of solar-based solutions: solar lights, solar home systems (SHSs), and solar mini-grids. Solar lights and SHSs are relatively small stand-alone systems, while mini-grids can deliver up to Tier 5 energy access.
Table 2: Off-grid solar energy systems installed (2021) 
|Worldwide (MW)||Africa (MW)|
|Solar lights (<11 W)||95.872||35.130|
|Solar home systems (SHS 11-50 W)||151.329||63.575|
|Solar home systems (SHS >50 W)||169.428||121.501|
Table 3: Number of people connected to off-grid solar energy systems (2021)
|Worldwide (Thousands)||Africa (Thousands)|
|Number of people using solar lights (<11 W)||137,983||52,629|
|Number of people using SHS (11-50 W)||20,291||11,584|
|Number of people using SHS (>50 W)||10,022||7,572|
|Number of people connected to solar mini-grids (Tier 1)||1,155||674|
|Number of people connected to solar mini-grids (Tier 2+)||2,299||1,241|
While Africa’s solar energy market is still in its early stages, it has significant growth potential. Look out for more posts on Africa and its solar PV market.
 M. Rowe, “Africa’s unclear path to renewable energy,” Nov. 2022. https://geographical.co.uk/climate-change/african-energy (accessed Feb. 16, 2023).
 International Renewable Energy Agency and African Development Bank, “Renewable Energy Market Analysis Africa and Its Regions,” Abu Dhabi and Abidjan, Jan. 2022. Accessed: Feb. 14, 2023. [Online]. Available: https://www.irena.org/publications/2022/Jan/Renewable-Energy-Market-Analysis-Africa
 International Energy Agency, “Africa Energy Outlook 2022 World Energy Outlook Special Report,” Jun. 2022. Accessed: Feb. 14, 2023. [Online]. Available: https://www.iea.org/reports/africa-energy-outlook-2022
 The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), “Renewable capacity statistics 2023.” Accessed: Apr. 09, 2023. [Online]. Available: https://www.irena.org/Publications/2023/Mar/Renewable-capacity-statistics-2023
 International Renewable Energy Agency, Off-grid Renewable Energy Statistics 2022. 2022. Accessed: Feb. 14, 2023. [Online]. Available: https://www.irena.org/Publications/2022/Dec/Off-grid-renewable-energy-statistics-2022