IREK Working Paper No. 6

China’s involvement in the transition to large-scale renewable energy in Africa

China is playing an increasing role in the ongoing transition toward large-scale renewable energy (RE) in Africa. Previous research on China’s involvement in this transition has focused mainly on hydropower projects and much less on other rapidly emerging RE technologies, such as solar PV and wind power. Further, previous studies have focused on the underlying drivers, the volume, and the political economy of Chinese RE investments in Africa. This report contributes to the literature by adopting a detailed and systematic assessment of Chinese investments in hydro, wind and solar power projects in Africa. It adopts a perspective distinguishing between three types of China-Africa flows in relation to specific RE projects: capital-related flows; technology-related flows; and production-related flows. The report presents illustrative examples of specific projects to assess the nature and functioning of these flows. It finds that the Chinese actors involved not only include investors, but involves a variety of additional actors, including technology suppliers, engineering contractors and construction companies. Further, the report identifies a Chinese model of investments characterised by a high degree of imported content from China in terms of investments, technology and contractors. The report provides a basis for further research on whether such a dominant pattern of full-package provision is generalizable more broadly and how it compares with the involvement of non-Chinese actors. Finally, the report points at very limited Chinese investments in productive assets for RE technologies in Africa.

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