Renewable energy in sub saharan africa: Investment and social media conservation boom.

energie rinnovabili in africa


The future of energy sources in Africa will inevitably be related to renewable fonts. Currently, less than 25% of housing in sub saharan Africa has access  to electricity, and only about 10% of rural areas. With time, the situation only seems to get worse, regardless of the develpment and economic growth of the area, mostly because of climate change and i’ts toll on the hydro electric sector.
As an answer, the government is on the lookout for renewable energy solutions, establishing ambitious objectives and investing in solar, wind and geothermic energy solutions. According to Irena (Agenzia internazionale delle energie rinnovabili), the percentage of renewable energy can go from 17% in 2009 to 50% in 2030. South Africa is one of the countries with the highest amount of investments for renewable energy, with an increase of 329% (4,5 billion).

Come reagisce la Rete africana alle rinnovabili?


In the last five months, 29.888 posts (Fig 1) including news articles, blog posts, forum discussions, and content on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, have had green energy as their central topic, triggering 45.221 interactions (comments, retweets, shares, likes, etc.) from 41.375 users, achieving a participation rate of 15% (the percentage of posts that generated at least one response/conversation).There has been an increase in comparison with the previous five months, helped by the buzz aroud the Paris Agreement (november 2015) and the SAIREC 2015 (South Africa International Renewable Energy Conference) held in Cape Town last October.

Many interactions were concentrated in a few posts, this was due to the fact that one piece of news generated a lot of the content, or to the difficulty of getting a strong internet connection in places where there is no electricity.

Fig.1 . Number of published messages in the sub sahara regions from september 2015 to january 2016


Most of the posts and interactions (Fig.2) happened on Twitter (36,11%). Content was mostly government information or from activist associations. The most relevant topics were environmental policies and government investment. Hypothesis around new international cooperation agreements for new plants were also protagoninsts in the conversation. Around 35,4% of the action happened on Facebook: newspapers, governments and environmentalist associations put out news, alerted about issues around traditional energy sources, and promoted the use of green power. News sites (14,6%) and specialized blogs or activists (9,43%) criticized the government propaganda and corruption in the management of renewable sources.
The less relevant channels were Instagram (2,61%) and forums (1,18%), which mostly concentrated on Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd, the South African electricity public utility, that produces energy for almost the whole country and mainly uses carbon and nuclear sources.

Fig. 2 – Post distribution and interaction in web and social channels in Sub Saharan Africa in the period from sept 2015 to january 2016.

The most talked about energy source was solar, followed by wind power. The geothermic and biomasse were in the last spots, due also to the fact they’re the least used in Africa because of their high costs (Fig.3). News portal posts, Twitter and blogs are the most common content. Facebook was less used as a comms channel.


Fig.3 – Post comparison between the content that referred most popular energy sources, september 2015 to january 2016


If we compare interactions, the proportion doesn’t change, but the channel does, in this case Facebook dominates. (Fig. 4).


Fig.4 – Comparison of numer of interactions between the main renewable energy sources, september 2015 to january 2016


What are the countries that hold online discussions about renewable energy?


The most active countries online talking about clean energy are those of anglophone areas (Fig. 5).


Fig. 5 – Geo localized post and interaction distribution regarding renewable energy, september 2015 to january 2016


In the top five countries with the highest number of content around the subject (Fig.6), South Africa is number one with 42%. In the discussions, most of the comments were criticism from environmentalist associations and activists regarding the use of nuclear and carbon energy sources. A strong topic in the discussions was the normality of power loss, that according to users, slowed down the country’s economic development. In Nigeria, second in the ranking (with 14,7%) dicussions revolve around investments and international agreements meant to broaden the infrastructure (the most used are solar sources). 10,5% of the discussion around sustainable energy in the subsaharan area come from Kenya, where the most talked about topic is the new investment in the geotermic, solar and wind sources. In Zambia, fourth in the ranking with 9,4%, government investments and new structures are the main subjects. And last in the ranking we find Ethiopia (3.1%) with content surrounding investment, mainly on eolic sources.


Fig.6 – The first 10 countries with the highest number of online messages regarding renewable energy, from september 2015 to january 2016.

Even if we compare the amount of messages in different languages (english and french), the term ‘green power’ performs better over ‘energie verte’, with most of the posts being in english.


Fig.7 Number of messages in english (left box) and in french (right box), from september 2015 to january 2016. The number of interactions is relative to messages with identifiable text in either of the languages. Not included: images with no text, icons or likes.


The lowest participation of users in french is a consequence of african demographics. The english speaking countries are the most populated: Nigeria’s population is about 177 million, the resulting number from the french speaking countries, including Réunion e di Mayotte islands, is 309 million people, almost doubling Nigeria’s population. In the francophone world, the most talked about subjects are the inauguration of new structures, new investments and policies resulting from COP21. Instead, for english speakers, the subjects are related to government investment, new structures, strong critics about policy management surrounding energy sourcing in general.

Clean energy is a men’s discussion


The most active users in the subject of renewable energy in subsaharan africa are male (66.6%); they post about quality of life, economic growth, and the country’s development. Women’s participation is less (33.4%) and they talk about caring for the environment and enhancing quality of life by using renewable energy, especially in rural areas. The most active age group range is from 18 to 44 yo (Fig. 8).

Fig. 8: The distribution of messages divided by sex and age, from september 2015 to january 2106 (demografic data on sex and age is relative to social channels where they’re declared).

The web data is a reflection of african society, where women with access to internet are a minority, and where some subjects – in tis case renewable energy- are considered to be exclusively for men. If online trends follow the growing investment forecasts, the conversation and online audience may quickly change. This will be followed up in the next few months.

Pierre Tsapgueu Sonna

Originally from Cameroon, he has lived in Rome since 2009. He’s an analyst specializing in socio-political and intercultural issues in sub-Saharan Africa. After he obtained a degree in Cinema and Visual Arts, and a Master’s degree in video reporting and investigative documentaries, he founded a cinematography and audiovisual production studio and works as a video reporter and correspondent for Canal 2 International and for the Centro Relazioni con l’Africa della Società Geografica Italiana (CRA-SGI, Center for Relations with Africa of the Italian Geographic Society). He collaborates with African chancellors and organizations, as head of communication and a reporter. Languages: French, English and Italian.