The spectacular scale and speed of China’s domestic renewable energy capacity development and technology catch-up has in recent years been followed by the ‘go out’ of Chinese clean energy technology firms seeking new markets and opportunities in sub-Saharan Africa. This paper explores the growing involvement of China in the development and transfer of renewable energy technologies in Africa and examines the key drivers and obstacles shaping Chinese renewable energy investments and exports. Far from there being some kind of grand or harmonious strategy directed by a single monolithic state, we argue that fragmented and decentralised state apparatuses and quasi-market actors in China are increasingly pursuing their own independent interests and agendas around renewable energy in Africa in ways often marked by conflict, inconsistency and incoherence. Moving beyond the state-centric analysis common in much of the research on contemporary China–Africa relations, the paper examines the motivations of a range of non-state and quasi-state actors, as well their different perceptions and constructions of risk, policy environments and political stability in recipient countries. The paper explores the case study example of South Africa, where Chinese firms have become increasingly significant in the diffusion of renewable energy technology.