First, the bad news. Although Africa has vast fossil and renewable energy sources, only twenty percent of its population has direct access to electricity and in some rural areas, four out of five people are completely without power. According to the UN, over 600 million Africans currently do not have access to electricity.
A depressing 70 percent of Sub-Saharan Africa's population is living without access to clean and safe energy for their basic needs such as cooking, lighting and heating, making energy poverty among the most urgent issues facing Africa. Worldwide, more than 1.4 billion people worldwide have no access to electricity, and 1 billion more only have intermittent access.
The good news? Total investments in renewable energy in Africa rose from $750 million in 2004 to $3.6 billion in 2011. To put this in a global context, worldwide investment in renewable energy has risen from $33 billion in 2004 to $211 billion in 2011.
And the future? Africa is set to grow from the 2011 total of $3.6-billion in 2010 to $57-billion by 2020, a staggering 1,583 percent increase in nine short years.
The reason for the spectacular projections? Africa's combination of a massive unmet demand, including remote communities, allied to an abundance of renewable power potential in the form of solar, wind and geothermal potential. To give but one example. Only seven percent of Africa's hydropower capacity has been developed up to now.
Africa is not yet locked into the inefficient, oft-polluting infrastructure of many Western countries. Accordingly, Africa with modern efficient technologies could build a renewable energy infrastructure that could bypass the inefficient, fossil fuel-centered energy infrastructure systems of the developed world.
South Africa has its planned solar park in Upington, intended to contribute 5,000 megawatts to the national electrical grid, while North Africa's Desertec is the largest solar power project ever conceived, designed at a potential cost of $500 billion to provide a significant portion of the electricity needs of participating countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region and up to 15 per cent of Europe's electricity needs by 2050.
Africa's ambitions have the support of the United Nations, where in 2010 the General Assembly unanimously endorsed a resolution designating 2012 as "The International Year of Sustainable Energy for All."
The downside to this picture? Three things - the need for massive amounts of investment capital, a problem attendant to massive amounts of cash - corruption, and the continent's changing political landscape, which is already impacting the Desertec North African solar initiative as the Arab Spring roils the south coast of the Mediterranean.
But both the need and potential are there - all that are currently lacking to make the future predictions a reality are cash and political will.