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Harnessing the Sun: The Potential of Solar Energy in Africa

Introduction to Solar Energy: How it Works, Benefits, and Challenges

Solar energy, an age-old source of power, has seen a modern resurgence with technological advancements. It harnesses sunlight and converts it into electricity either through photovoltaic cells or via solar thermal processes. While this energy source offers benefits such as reduced greenhouse gas emissions, consistent energy prices, and lower electricity bills, it also poses challenges like intermittent energy generation and high initial installation costs.

Overview of Solar Energy Use in Africa: Current State and Future Potential

In Africa, solar energy is fast becoming a top choice for electrification. The vast potential is evident from the IRENA’s estimation, which pegs Africa’s solar energy potential at 60 million TWh annually, dwarfing Europe’s 3 million TWh. Presently, the continent boasts a solar capacity of 12 GW, and with the right policies, this figure could soar to 70 GW by 2030.

However, there are impediments. According to AFRIK 21, while countries like South Africa and Egypt are leading the transition with solar energy, the broader African solar sector is hampered by a lack of funding and inadequate transmission infrastructure.

Case Studies of Successful Solar Energy Projects in Africa

1. South Africa’s Bokpoort Thermodynamic Solar Power Plant: With a capacity of 50 MWe, this plant exemplifies Africa’s capability to harness solar energy innovatively. Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) plants like Bokpoort use mirrors to trap the sun’s rays, producing high temperatures that generate steam. This steam powers turbines to produce electricity.

2. The Benban Solar Complex, Egypt: An epitome of solar prowess, the Benban complex in Aswan, Egypt, is set to house 32 solar power plants. When operational, it will command a staggering capacity of 1,650 MWp.

3. Noor Ouarzazate Solar Complex, Morocco: While currently facing delays, once fully realized, the Noor Ouarzazate complex will be a beacon of Africa’s solar ambition. The current capacity is an impressive 580 MW, with the Moroccan government eyeing renewable sources for 52% of its total electricity consumption by 2030.

The Role of Off-Grid Solar Solutions in Electrifying Rural Africa

For the vast African populace without electricity access, decentralised solar solutions are not just an alternative; they are a lifeline. These off-grid solutions, including solar home systems and mini-grids, are powering the electrification of rural areas.

Solar Home Systems (SHS): Small-scale networks that provide electricity to individual homes, SHS comprise solar panels, inverters, and batteries. The pay-as-you-go model, coupled with mobile money payments, makes SHS accessible even in the remotest parts. Companies like d.light have reported significant strides, attributing solar kits to electrifying around 100 million global users, a majority being Africans.

Mini-Grids: These are small solar power plants complete with electricity storage, either via batteries or hybrid systems. Ideal for villages or communities, they can eventually be integrated into the central grid. Companies like Nuru in the DRC are pioneering this, with mini-grids powering entire towns like Goma.

However, the overarching challenge is the financing barrier. As elucidated by the Institute Montaigne’s report, the large-scale investments required for photovoltaic production deter potential investors. The think-tank proposes that public funds should be better utilised for building network infrastructure, regulatory reform, and risk-mitigation tools, thus creating a more attractive proposition for private investors.

In conclusion, while challenges exist, the potential for solar energy in Africa is undeniable. With appropriate investments, policy frameworks, and technological innovations, the continent can indeed harness the sun to light up its future.

Feel free to contact the Energy Transition Centre today with questions. 

·  Julius Moerder, Head of Energy Transition Centre [email protected]

·  Oneyka Ojogbo, Head of Energy Transition Centre, Nigeria & West Africa [email protected]

·  Leon van Der Merwe, Head of Energy Transition Centre, South Africa [email protected]

Author: Memoona Tawfiq