Speaking at an energy conference in Moscow, Russia's president Vladimir Putin was critical of renewable energy. He seems to claim that it is a choice between fossil fuel driven economic development or renewable energy.

People in Africa and in many Asian countries want to be as wealthy as people in Sweden. How can this be done? By making them use solar power, which is plentiful in Africa? Has anyone explained the cost of it? [...] But is it an accessible technology for developing economies and countries? Hardly accessible. But people there want to live like in Sweden and nothing can stop them. Go and explain to them that they must live in poverty for 20-30 more years, as well as their children. Explain it to them. Overall, of course, we cannot but support the ideas of developing renewable energy sources. We just need to be realistic.

I would like to know if this is correct: does Africa have to choose between renewable energy or economic development? And would choosing solar panels really stagnate living standards for twenty to thirty years?

Considering that Russia is a major oil and gas exporter, it does seem convenient that their president is critical of the effectiveness of renewables. But that doesn't mean his claim is necessarily wrong.

  • 4
    That is an extremely broad question and one that whole books have been written on on both sides of the argument.
    – Borgh
    Commented Nov 4, 2019 at 10:52
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    Given Africa's geographical location with respect to the equator and its large tracts of desert it seems an almost ideal candidate for solar energy. As you pointed out, Putin has a vested interest in painting a different picture.
    – GordonM
    Commented Nov 4, 2019 at 12:09
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    Also, Africa is a big continent. That said some countries can take advantage of its hydrography and build a dam, others can be better using the sun and wind and finally, there are those that can take advantage of its own oil reserves, like Angola. This question begs to be broken to be answered in a country-by-country basis.
    – jean
    Commented Nov 4, 2019 at 12:45
  • 7
    A complex question, with unclear premises, that can't be analysed for simple "truth" or 'falsehood", and would be better on Economics or Politics. Commented Nov 4, 2019 at 14:30
  • 5
    This is not something that can be answered with empirical evidence. It is calling for opinion and speculation about a complex topic.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Nov 4, 2019 at 16:41

1 Answer 1


An answer to this question depends how one chooses to interpret that Putin said. I interpret it as him saying solar panels are more expensive than alternatives, perhaps for the next 20-30 years.

That depends on a few assumptions. A 2018 study on the feasibility of solar power (which is generally assumed is going to be largely decentralized in Africa) found that under the current cost structure solar power is not competitive (only in 0.2-0.3% of Africa it could beat current grid tariffs), but that it could become so in 28-35% of Africa under some assumptions of future cost decreases. They seem to rely on a 25% cost reduction by 2025 for this projection, derived from IRENA.

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