Solar energy stakeholders meet in Ghana to explore business opportunities in West Africa

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West Africa is considered one of the many places in the world blessed with continuous sunshine. With the weather ranging from above 20 degree Celsius for most part of the year, the West African sub region has many benefits of this resource. Energy experts say, it presents an opportunity to focus on tapping into the abundant sunshine to power the economy for socio-economic development. Given the immense opportunities in the WestAfrican large scale and off-grid solar markets the Solar and Off-Grid Renewable West Africa conference took place at Movenpick Ambassador Hotel in Accra to present experts with the current opportunities in the sector. Given that renewable energy is sustainable with great less carbon footprints on the environment, many are currently calling for huge investment in this field as a result of climate change and ongoing energy crisis in some African countries such as Ghana, Nigeria as well as South Africa.
The event which would become an annual affair is organised by Solar Media, an international publishing company with similar events in the United Kingdom, Thailand, East Africa, among others. The Content Manager of Solar Media, Jo-Anne Duff says a similar event was held in Kenya last year and the feedback from delegates was the need to have a similar one in West Africa.
West African delegates at the East Africa event was an interesting one, therefore the reason to have this event in Accra, she says.
On the choice to host it in Ghana, Ms Duff said the country has some of the right attributes, such as stable democracy, have in place policy for renewables, as well as the government is putting in place measures to address the ongoing power problem that is confronting the country. In addition, “a lot of the people we work with have projects and businesses in Ghana, so we say it is a fantastic place to do business,’’ she noted.
The conference had a great mix of important players in the energy sector in Ghana and across West Africa and internationally ranging from private investors, Ghana’s deputy minister for power and Energy Commission, private investors, Ghana Grid Company, development banks and a host of international companies such as First Solar, Viking Renewable, among others.
The common theme during the conference was on the need to increase the deployment of solar in power generation, “Ghana has a lot of sunshine, what is missing and what companies are working on is storage and once it catches up we can have a supply of 24 hours of power supply. In between that you have got people providing solar in the day light,’’ said Ms Duff.
‘’If the government can provide stability to the market and they can show the market that the feed-in tariffs are workable and affordable, people can get good connections, then the market will scale up,’’ she emphasised.
Ira Todorova, Vice Executive Director, from Viking Renewable also says the African market has a great potential for the development of renewable energy projects. Viking Renewable which has been in the solar sector since 2006 and has gained the expertize to build and manage solar projects by working in different countries within Europe business plan is to expand to new markets, particularly West and East Africa.
In countries with such a high price of electricity and constant cut-offs, solar could be a win-win solution for all the stakeholders. ‘’The important thing is for the governments to introduce such a law that would attract investors. Thus, governments would not need to spend any money for solving this issue (on the contrary, they can earn money for their budgets) and the people will have electricity at lower prices. Blackouts could be reduced a lot. Not quite good situation for the oil companies but oil is exhaustible. The whole world is looking for sustainable development and Africa should do as well,’’ she says.
Todorova said the conference and all the meetings and discussions have been very useful, “Now we can consider our strategy and our short and long term plan to establish ourselves in West Africa,’’ she added.
Anthony Perrino, the Technical Director-Business Development (Africa) for First Solar says his outfit recognises that solar and renewable energy investment can be done in West Africa therefore the conference is an opportunity to meet people that have solar energy needs and which solar can offer a solution. “To make sure that the African market is aware of solar and that solar is technology, just an awareness creation. Tin based photovoltaics (PV) technology is still seen as a new technology in the African market but truly not, has been in the player in PV for some time, make sure that people are aware of it and what solar can be beneficial to their energy needs,’’ he said.
According to west Africa has some of the highest solar radiant in the world but at same time west Africa has energy needs together with growing population, growing load and few new generation coming online to support. However, he is of the view that, with the solar resources the sub region can generate a lot of solar power to provide the power needs for the people, which would also lead to create employment for people.
Isiaka Adebayor Jimoh, the chief executive officer of Chemtech based in Nigeria noted thatelectricity has always been a problem in Nigeria, and Ghana, so the demand is becoming increasingly on the rise on daily basis.
“the main source of energy from fuel is becoming expensive and unreliable, the other side effects of nuclear power, such as greenhouse effect, environment pollution is making people across the globe to look in the direction of renewables and solar being probably the most convenient alternative in terms of maintenance,’’ Jimoh says.
“So we are looking at this to gather the stakeholders globally to talk about what can be done, the challenges, put up a drawing plan to embrace the benefits of renewables, which in the near future see the benefits,’’ he said.
Jimoh believes that a lot of industries in Nigeria, as well as Ghana are folding up as a result of governments failure to invest in the energy sector resulting in power crisis thereby reducing productivity.