Sub-Saharan Africa is at a pivotal crossroads in its development. Its choice of energy for the future will be decisive in achieving its sustainable development ambitions, including clean and affordable electricity access for all.

As recent IPCC reports have shown, sub-Saharan Africa faces very serious risks from climate change, especially with current policy pathways pushing the world towards 2.7°C of warming by 2100.

The IPCC AR6 Working Group II report found with high confidence that limiting global warming to 1.5°C is likely to substantially reduce damages to African economies and ecosystems. Exceeding this level of warming, even by 0.5°C, is projected to result in impacts becoming widespread and severe, including reduced food production, reduced economic growth, increased inequality and poverty, increased human morbidity and mortality and major biodiversity loss.

Conversely, limiting global warming to 1.5°C will likely have a large positive impact on GDP across Africa, with clear benefits from a low emissions pathway emerging by 2030.

But at the moment, Africa’s progress towards achieving critical sustainable development goals, particularly energy goals such as access to clean and affordable energy, are flagging and falling far behind 2030 targets. Universal access to clean and affordable energy is critical for economic development in sub-Saharan Africa to improve livelihoods, overcome gender issues, provide public services, enable industry development and ensure environmental sustainability.

Sub-Saharan Africa is home to more than half of the world’s least developed countries where people earn less than US$1.90 a day.

The current energy crisis and Europe’s search for a replacement for Russian gas has given rise to a trend towards greater interest in developing fossil fuel resources, particularly fossil gas for both domestic consumption and export, across the region.

At the same time, a larger energy system transformation is gaining momentum globally, driven in part by climate and energy policies aimed at meeting the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C goal, and enabled by the ongoing rapid reductions in the cost of renewable energy and storage technologies.

In this sense, sub-Saharan Africa stands at a crossroads: whether to expand investment in fossil fuel resources for domestic use and export, or whether to accelerate investment in clean and affordable renewable energy that can provide distributed or centralised power for rural and urban areas, as well as electrical power for industry, and potentially for export.

Africa has 60% of the world’s best solar resources. The unique opportunity that sub-Saharan Africa has is to find a way of taking advantage of its relatively low level of incumbent fossil fuel infrastructure compared to many other countries, and a large and growing demand for clean and affordable energy.

This paper conducts a survey of the issues involved in taking advantage of this opportunity and looks at further critical work needed to advance this.