The International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena) and the Africa Union (AU) have agreed to work closer together to drive the expansion of renewables in the continent, including decentralised grid systems, in order to bolster Africa’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The cooperation aims to strengthen Africa’s response to the coronavirus crisis by improving the ability of its rural health centres and communities to deal with the challenges caused by the pandemic by using renewables to power-critical services such as medical infrastructure and water pumping stations.

“The AU has made major strides to advance energy development in Africa through various programmes and partnerships,” said Amani Abou-Zeid, the AU’s commissioner for infrastructure and energy. “It’s time to use Africa’s enormous renewable energy resources for the benefit of the African people in response to the coronavirus pandemic.”

Irena director-general Francesco La Camera stated: “Renewable energy can cost-effectively supply the critical power needed in Africa’s rural communities to supply health centres, facilitate the provision of clean water, support agriculture and help other productive sectors. Such measures are critical to the continent’s ability to deal with the pandemic.”

Among the areas for collaboration are initiatives such as the Desert to Power programme, initiated by the African Development Bank to provide electricity to the Sahel region – the vast semi-arid region, on the southern fringe of the Sahara desert that cuts across several African countries, that is believed to be the largest solar zone in the world.

Irena and the AU will also work together on Irena’s Clean Energy Corridor schemes in east, west and southern Africa which focus on advancing the deployment of renewables through the creation of larger and more robust power markets encouraging cross-border trade of renewable power.

Irena and the AU highlight that Africa – home to more than two-thirds of the world’s least developed countries where 600 million people are without access to modern energy services –possesses vast renewables potential that could cover nearly a quarter of its energy needs through developing indigenous energy sources by 2030.