Solar panels are becoming a common feature on rooftops of buildings in Africa. Why is this? Well, electricity costs have soared and a good number of people have realized the uncountable benefits of renewable energy. Besides the relief from the high monthly electricity bills, solar power could save the planet from dangers that threaten its future like toxic pollution and global warming that are caused by the reliance on fossil fuels.
The increase in the number of installations in Africa is attributed to the plummeting costs of the equipments to generate solar power.
A report by the International Energy agency says that solar power has the potential to be the top contributor of global power making up to 16% of the world’s electricity, with solar thermal electricity (STE) from concentrating solar power plants contributing another 11% by 2050.
Africa’s solar power has the capacity to supply the whole globe with energy but this potential remains untapped owing to technological challenges and poverty. Also lacking is the political will to formulate and implement policies that would see renewable sources of energy given preference. Most African policy makers are often blind to the potential of solar energy to spur economic growth in their countries, viewing it as a rather expensive venture. A good number of schools and hospitals in the rural areas in Africa do not have access to electricity, making service delivery almost impossible.
The UN’s goal of universal energy access by 2030 cannot be achieved if Africa continues its reliance on the mainstream sources energy that have often proved unsustainable thus leaving a big percentage of the African population in the dark.
Why solar power?
Generating electricity through solar power will undoubtedly be a solution to many of Africa’s challenges. Over half a billion people live without electricity in the continent and this has hampered economic growth. The high cost of electricity has also led to high production costs crippling the competitiveness of the African nations in the global market.
The existing electricity infrastructure in Africa is also a big hindrance to economic growth with the population rising each and every day. The African economies can thrive if Africa turns to large scale renewable energy projects.
Affordable electricity would therefore lead to better healthcare, communication technologies, information and education. Solar energy is reliable, free and requires little or no maintenance.
The equipments can also be installed anywhere whether in rural or urban areas. Solar energy has no emissions that threaten the environment, another reason why Africa should opt for solar energy. Sabiya Kadri of Shivam Photovoltaics, Indian manufacturers of solar products, adds that it is the most cost-effective way of generating electricity and should be utilized to the fullest.
Solar to power Africa’s future
However slowly, Africa is taking a new direction. A UNEP report released in 2013 suggests that South Africa recorded the world’s highest growth in renewable energy investments in 2012. South Africa is one of the African countries that have made tremendous strides towards reducing its dependency on coal which accounts for over 80% of its energy. They have an ambitious target to generate 18GW of clean energy by 2030. There are also other technological hubs and clean energy projects in major African cities like Lagos, Accra and Nairobi that seek to power Africa’s development agenda through solar energy. African households are gradually getting their sources of electricity from solar power, increasing the market demand for solar power generating equipments in Africa. Off-grid solar photovoltaic for example has provided over 2 million Kenyan households access to energy. This is according to Green Alliance.
There is even more hope as the key players in the solar installation and manufacturing industry predict an upsurge in the reliance on solar power worldwide. Carola Rijnbeek, the Marketing Communication specialist at Victron Energy, the Dutch producers of solar products notices an increasing demand for off-grid systems. She opines that people are opting for this path either because of an unreliable grid or there may be no grid at all especially in remote areas. People are choosing sources of energy that best fit their needs and budget. She adds that governments and interest groups worldwide are increasingly defining rules and regulations on renewable energy at the local levels.
Ronald Terry, the Managing Director at the UK-based Photonworld Solar based on his knowledge of the African market says that in future, African solar power is going to be adapted for various applications, with solar street lighting already common in most African cities. He however warns that buyers should watch out for the quality of the solar products they buy. Mr. Terry also manages Salwan Enterprises that is based in Nigeria.
With continuous improvements in technology, it is expected that solar energy will get cheaper as the prices for conventional energy continue to rise.
In this issue we are looking at the benefits of solar power and how Africa is realizing its potential and turning to solar power as a preferred source of energy.