The island nation of Cape Verde is located 250 miles west of Senegal in the southern Atlantic ocean. It has few natural resources — except wind and sunshine. Virtually everything the nation’s 550,000 people consume has to be imported at great expense by air or sea. That includes the fossil fuels it uses to generate its electricity.

At the beginning of the decade, Cape Verde authorities set a goal of getting 25% of its power from renewables by 2011 and 50% by 2020. To accomplish that goal, it established Project Cabeólica, the first public–private partnership to deliver commercial-scale wind power in sub-Saharan Africa.

Ana Monteiro, the project’s head of environment, social, and administration, said the country is already supplying 25% of the electricity consumed in Cape Verde from 30 wind turbines spread across its 4 largest islands. Combined with its solar installations, it gets more than a third of its energy from renewables. Now, Cape Verde wants to push the fast-forward button on renewables so it can stop using fossil fuels altogether. It has moved its target of 100% renewable power up to 2020.

Energy minister Anildo Costa tells CNN the country is in a unique position in West Africa. It not only wants to meet all its electrical needs from renewables; it wants to be a resource for all of Africa so it can help neighboring countries accomplish the same thing. “Cape Verde wants to serve as a laboratory,” he says. “We’ll invest in technological innovations so we can learn over time, and fully adopt those technologies once they become profitable for the country. Given the share of renewable energy in our network, and our intensive experience of these technologies, we should be able to share this experience beyond our borders.”

Last year, the government founded the Centre of Renewable Energy and Industrial Maintenance (CERMI), which it hopes can become a resource for the whole of West Africa. The government says its strategy is perfectly achievable. Not only will divesting from fossil fuels cut carbon emissions — Costa says it will create jobs, too. 20% of Cape Verdeans live in poverty. Much of the country survives on remittance payments sent back by citizens living in other countries to families and friends.

“We see our investment in renewable energy as something larger,” Mr Costa said. “We want to have a state of the art renewable energy sector that serves as a reference point for the entire country.”