RECP, an EU-Africa energy pact, is aiming to help bring modern and sustainable energy services to at least 100 million Africans by 2020.
By 2012, the 28 MW Cabeolica wind facility should be helping Cape Verde achieve its target of meeting a quarter of its needs from renewable sources.
The technology to power Cabeolica will come from wind turbine manufacturer Vestas of Denmark. The cash needed to make it happen will come from €45 million of loans from the European Investment Bank – the financing arm of the European Union – and the local African Development Bank.
For Cape Verde, this is a triumph of Euro-African co-operation. With their first-rate natural wind resource, the technology is clearly the perfect fit for the islands. However, replicating it with other renewables projects large and small across Africa, and especially the sub-Saharan region of the continent, is a far more daunting challenge.
There are a host of good reasons for the EU to drive renewables development in Africa. These range from an ethical imperative to bring clean energy to some of the world's poorest people to hard-headed commercial considerations. China sees Africa as a major source of trade in renewable energy technology and is already a major backer of projects on the continent, a fact that EU-based companies are all too aware of.
Brussels' latest initiative to build strong links with the Africa's nascent renewables infrastructure was unveiled in the autumn in the form of the Renewable Energy Co-operation Programme
The programme is a joint initiative with the African Union under the umbrella of the Africa-EU Energy Partnership (AEEP), a wider strategic energy pact between the two bodies that has been operational since 2007.
RECP brings to African renewables a flavour of the target-driven approach the EU has adopted within its own borders. Its goals include building at least 5 GW of wind power, 500 MW of solar capacity and 10 GW of new hydropower facilities.
RECP hopes that renewables development in Africa will benefit from a high-level cementing of ties with Europe, one of the world's regional powerhouses of clean energy policy and innovation.
While its ambitions are significant, RECP will begin with a relatively modest €5 million (US$7 million) of EU funding to support the programme's three-year start-up phase, which will lay the groundwork for its activities.
In light of the scale of the challenge in Africa, it is fair to ask what RECP hopes to add to the many initiatives already underway involving Europe, both at EU and individual member state level, especially as the African Union (AU) lacks the legislative clout with its national members enjoyed by its colleagues in Brussels. The answer seems to be that RECP is intended to focus the two continents' collective minds on the job in hand.
Launching the programme, Europe's commissioner for development, Andris Piebalgs, said that RECP is not itself a new financing instrument for investments but is instead intended to add value to other programmes that involve the EU and its members. Piebalgs made it clear that for the objectives set out in RECP to be met, 'political will' is a prerequisite in Europe and Africa alike.