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AfDB Drives Ambitious Desert To Power Initiative


THE African Development Bank (AfDB) is spearheading one of the world’s most ambitious energy projects: the Desert to Power initiative, which aims to bring energy to some of the most underdeveloped regions of the African continent. This transformative effort focuses on converting Africa’s sun-drenched Sahel region into a hub of solar energy, targeting 11 countries: Burkina Faso, Chad, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, and Sudan.

Bank President Dr Akinwumi Adesina, the visionary behind the project, describes it as the Bank’s ‘baobab.’ He emphasised its significance, stating, ‘Desert to Power is what I call the baobab of projects. It will require all our efforts if we are to effect change,’ during a COP meeting.


The initiative aims to harness the region’s immense solar potential to generate 10 gigawatts of solar power by 2030, providing electricity to 250 million people. The AfDB has already made significant strides, approving the 225 kV Mauritania-Mali Power Interconnection and related Solar Power Plants Development Project (PIEMM) last December. This project will facilitate regional electricity trade, allowing Mali to import about 600 GWh of renewable electricity from Mauritania annually, and is expected to connect 100,000 new households.

The Desert to Power initiative addresses Africa’s critical energy access issues and aims to reduce dependence on fossil fuels. Adesina noted that this project is crucial for environmental stability, as it will mitigate deforestation and its associated impacts. In Africa, an area the size of Switzerland is cleared of forest annually, largely for cooking and heating purposes. By investing in solar energy, the initiative seeks to provide a sustainable alternative to charcoal, which is a leading cause of deforestation.

The AfDB has successfully leveraged international climate finance from sources like the Green Climate Fund to support the initiative. The Bank’s Sustainable Energy Fund for Africa (SEFA) is also providing catalytic capital for private sector projects across the Desert to Power countries. With commitments of over $500 million from 10 donors, including Denmark, the United States, and the United Kingdom, SEFA is a critical component of this effort.

Currently, the Desert to Power portfolio includes 10 investment projects and over 15 technical assistance operations across seven of the 11 target countries. The initiative has garnered widespread praise. The Financial Times recently hailed it as a showcase example of innovative development projects necessary for Africa’s engagement and stability, urging Western governments to support it.

The project is part of a broader effort to transition Africa to more sustainable energy sources, essential for the continent’s rapid population growth and rising energy demands. Despite its vast renewable energy potential, Africa remains largely untapped, with 600 million people still without access to electricity. The AfDB’s investment in solar energy is a vital step towards meeting these energy needs sustainably.

From 2016 to 2022, the AfDB approved $8.3bn in energy commitments, with 87 percent directed towards renewable energy projects, generating 3.4 GW of electricity, including 2.6 GW from renewable sources. The Bank is also developing an African Green Mineral Strategy to capitalize on the continent’s abundant critical minerals essential for the energy transition.

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