Happy New Year! Since the year is at its youthful stage, we at Renewables in Africa recognize the role of the youth in achieving a clean green Africa. The topics covered include:
- Energy Poverty
- Youth and Innovation
- Fourth Industrial Revolution
- Encouraging Youth Involvement in Renewables
Energy poverty has been a prominent phenomenon in Africa. A clean energy revolution in sub-Saharan Africa is urgently needed to win the fight against energy poverty. However, investment in clean energy in sub-Saharan Africa jumped to $7.4 billion in 2018 up from $2.3 billion in 2017. This growth has been facilitated by the “far cry” to save the environment through heavy investment in transitioning to renewables. As I reflect on this agenda, the role of young people in fostering this drive is swept under the carpet most of the time. Growing up in a post war torn Sierra Leone in the early 2000s, I witnessed the first wave of micro-entrepreneurs growth in the country. This wave was short-lived and the current wave of the early 2010s of youth in SMEs is faced with the challenge of scaling up their impact. Regardless of grants provided by ADB, UNICEF, Jack Ma Foundation, Tony Elumelu Foundation, however, supply is far from meeting demand.
The African youth has demonstrated resilience, but have struggled to grow their businesses – and data shows most SMEs on the continent are more likely to fail, due to the high levels of uncertainty and risk in their local environments. The most prevalent problems that have been withholding young people from championing the continent’s drive to sustainability includes corruption, political instability, lack of access to finance, and lack of electricity access. Energy access is critical in the continent’s economic and social growth, and therefore youth involvement cannot be overemphasized.
Youth and Innovation
Over 60% of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa is under the age of 25 and the number of African youth is expected to double to over 830 million by 2050. African youths are its major human resource that will serve as agents for entrepreneurship, innovation and social change on the continent. Since the dawn of the 21st century, the number of young people on the continent choosing a career in entrepreneurship and innovation has been increasing each year.
The amount of innovation coming from the continent has been growing each year, Kenya, Mauritius, Botswana, Tanzania and South Africa has constantly been ranked high on the Global Innovation Index, which examines the innovation performance of 126 countries with 80 indicators averaged to reflect the capacity for and success in innovation. Be it a free energy generator, automatic call and Bluetooth device that conserves energy and promotes energy efficiency in homes in Sierra Leone, or a generator that uses water in Nigeria or the development of mini grids that supply clean and affordable energy in Kenya, Rwanda or Tanzania. Young people around the continent have demonstrated through innovation, entrepreneurship and research that they want to be at the for-front in the transition process, but little has been done in making them relevant. As such, this serves as a wake up call for African states to create an agenda on how to bring more young people into the sector who will shape the transition process and propose solutions on energy efficiency.
Fourth Industrial Revolution
The growth in renewable investment calls for youth engagement, access to finance, skills and education that would promote innovation and governance in the sector. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the off-grid value chain alone, including sales, marketing, installation and services, could create at least 4.5 million jobs globally by 2030. While the estimated employment in the clean energy sector in Africa is still modest, with just 322,000 jobs across the continent, the sector is growing rapidly and has been a key drive of the fourth industrial revolutions as said by the African Development Bank, and has shown a huge potential in reducing the 420 million youth aged 15-35 who are currently unemployed. In comparing these figures with other regions, the International Renewable Energy Agency reports in 2019 that direct renewable energy jobs in the United States currently has over 611,000 employees and the energy industry in the United States employs 3 million of the country’s population. The level of youth innovation and self-discovering (what drives them and what they want to live their lives doing) among youths on the continent’s should serve as a sweet-spot that investors can leverage on.
Encouraging Youth Involvement in Renewables
The future of the continent lies on the shoulders of its youthful population. They will be well equipped if the current leaders put in place the right mechanism. The development of these strategies should be the top priority for governments and their partners to achieve the Pan African Vision of an Africa whose development is people-driven, relying on the potential of African people, especially its women and youth, and caring for children (Aspiration 6 of the African Union Agenda 2063). In overcoming some of the factors mitigating youth involvement in the sector, some of these issues need to be considered:
- The level of cooperation between the sector and education institutions needs to be worked on, this will better high the opportunities available in the sector while providing key concepts that students need to know;
- Increasing the amount of internships companies and organizations in the sector provides, this will build on the skills of young people who wish to make a career in this sector; However, a research by the International Labor Organization states “the growing pervasiveness of internships has not, as yet, been accompanied by much systematic research on the extent to which – and under which conditions do – internships provide an effective bridge to longer term stable employment”
- Increase the availability of resources and finance to innovators and entrepreneurs developing new renewable solutions, and for youths aiming to conduct research on renewables related areas, and;
- Increase the availability of training programs to boost innovation and awareness among youths.
The consideration of the highlighted issue above would help in creating the Africa its youths would be placed and happy to stay. The African youth has been battling on sourcing resources from overseas, which most of the time has been predatory towards their growth. The market size, demand for their products and the rise in the Pan-African concept has kept them going. The implementation of the points highlighted above would increase youth involvement in the sector. This century and the currently climate change issues call for a youth centered approach that will drive RE transition in Africa.
Jeremiah Thoronka is an Experienced Renewable energy entrepreneur and scholar with a demonstrated history of working as an Author and Entrepreneur in the sector. As an Entrepreneur, Jeremiah used his skills in science to develop Optim Energy, an innovative piezoelectric device that harnesses energy from heat, vibrations and weather, all which naturally occur in the environment, to create affordable, accessible and clean power in his community.