Renewables led by solar would play the biggest role in meeting Africa’s soaring power needs under a trajectory mapped by the International Energy Agency (IEA) out to 2040 that would help hundreds of millions more people get access to electricity.

The most ambitious ‘Africa Case’ scenario in the IEA’s latest outlook for the continent sees power demand almost tripling to 2,300TWh by then, with renewables accounting for three quarters of the new generation added to meet it.

The IEA sees solar overtaking gas and hydro to become the largest generator by installed capacity, with an average annual deployment of PV of almost 15GW.

Wind also makes a significant contribution, expanding rapidly “in several countries that benefit from high quality wind resources, most notably Ethiopia, Kenya, Senegal and South Africa”.

But the IEA said supporting the huge deployment would need “a more reliable power system and greater focus on transmission and distribution assets”.

The IEA said the ambition is badly needed as “current plans would leave 530 million people on the continent still without access to electricity in 2030, falling well short of universal access”.

“Africa has a unique opportunity to pursue a much less carbon-intensive development path than many other parts of the world,” said Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director. “To achieve this, it has to take advantage of the huge potential that solar, wind, hydropower, natural gas and energy efficiency offer.

“For example, Africa has the richest solar resources on the planet but has so far installed only 5GW of solar PV, which is less than 1% of global capacity.”

While the North African region in countries such as Egypt and Morocco is pressing on with large-scale renewables deployment, sub-Saharan Africa has lagged.

However, regional leader South Africa and Kenya both have ambitious plans to gear their power systems more around wind and solar.