With the ever-growing demands for electricity in Africa and the great strides being made in the field of renewable energy around the world, it is important that we as a continent examine where we stand and what role we play in the advancement of renewable energy.
The goal of renewable energy is to use natural resources that are naturally replenished (Wind, Sun, Rain, Geothermal etc.) to generate power as an alternative to other non-environmental friendly means.
Africa’s renewable energy potential is greatly hinged on its Solar energy capacity as Africa is the sunniest continent on Earth, especially as there are many sunny areas like the huge Sahara Desert. It has much greater solar resources than any other continent. Desert regions stand up as the most sunshiny while rainforests are considerably cloudier but still get a good global solar radiation because of the proximity with the equator. This is not to say that Africa lacks other renewable resources, however only about 7% of Africa’s enormous hydro potential has been harnessed. Existing estimates of hydro potential do not include small, mini and micro hydro opportunities, which are also significant. Geothermal energy potential stands at 9000MW, but only about 60MW has been exploited in Kenya. These numbers are set to grow in the coming years but it is hard to see them exceeding the potential of solar power.
The distribution of solar resources across Africa is fairly uniform, with more than 85% of the continent’s landscape receiving at least 2,000 kWh/(m² year). A recent study indicates that a solar generating facility covering just 0.3% of the area comprising North Africa could supply all of the energy required by the European union.
Although solar power technology has the potential to supply energy to large numbers of people, and has been used to generate power on a large scale in developed nations, its greatest potential in Africa may be to provide power on a smaller scale and to use this energy to help with day-to-day needs such as small-scale electrification. This argument is buttressed by the first utility-scale solar farm in Sub-Saharan Africa which was the 8.5MW plant at Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, in the Eastern Province of Rwanda. The plant uses 28,360 Photovoltaic panels and produces 6% of total electrical supply of the country.
There are several examples of small grid-linked solar power stations in Africa, including the Photovoltaic 250 kW Kigali Solar station in Rwanda and the power-up Gambia project. The Power-up Gambia project is a non-profit profit initiative that uses solar power technology to provide power to Gambian health care facilities, providing a reliable source of electricity for lighting, diagnostic testing, treatments, and water pumping.
These are just a few of the relatively small scale use of solar power electricity in Africa. These small-scale utilizations of solar energy have however paved the way for bigger projects in sub-Saharan Africa as investors are beginning to awaken to the immense potential of solar power in the continent.
Some plans exist to build solar farms in the deserts of North Africa to supply power for Europe. For example the Desertec project, backed by several European energy companies and banks, plans to generate renewable electricity in the Sahara desert and distribute it through a high-voltage grid for export to Europe and local consumption in North-Africa. This initiative seeks to provide continental Europe with up to 15% of its electricity. We also have the TuNur Project which would supply 2GW of solar generated electricity from Tunisia to the UK.
These are great examples of the global power sector appreciating and exploring the enormous solar power capacity of Africa. It is also noteworthy that Some of the most cost-competitive photovoltaic projects worldwide are already in Africa. For example, the utility-scale solar plant in South Africa has a generation cost of $0.075 per kilowatt hour, and it is expected that northern, eastern, and southern Africa will derive power from wind and hydro energy as well. It is expected that North, Eastern and Southern Africa can all derive renewable power from other sources, such as wind and hydro in addition to solar energy.
According to Mckinsey & Company’s brighter Africa report released earlier this year, with solar potential included, there is 10 terawatts of energy potential on the continent. A quarter of the electricity is predicted to come from renewable energy by 2040.
What’s more is that some of the technologies that are being deployed in Africa are the most advanced in the world. For example, concentrating solar power in South Africa — which uses mirrors to concentrate energy from the sun that drives traditional steam turbines or engines that the create electricity — is being deployed at a large scale and is one of the first experiments with the technology in the world.
In recent months, countries like South Africa and Nigeria have also announced their renewable energy plans. While it is clear that Africa is not exactly on the same level with Europe and Asia in renewable energy technology and development, it is also apparent that the African continent is not as far behind as many might think.
Various projects are already in place to empower the African continent and place it as the solar energy hub of the world. However, there is the incumbent fear that the mismanagement of funds and resources that has plagued the continent might raise its ugly head and sabotage such plans. While we hope that all stakeholders play their rightful roles to achieve Africa’s power goals, it is safe to remain optimistic on the future of Africa and renewable energy.