ICT GuestSouth AfricaTechnology

The sun shines on Africa

solarDinesh Buldoo, Director, Transmission and Distribution, WSP, Africa
Research gestures that by tapping into renewable resources, there would be a 27% reduction in carbon emissions, from 695Mt per year of CO2 to 507Mt per year by 2040, and a reduction in fuel costs due to the reliance on solar (and wind) instead of oil and gas.
The big opportunity
While there are a host of renewable energy technologies that are being explored and developed, solar provides significant potential to light up the continent, considering the high irradiation levels there are to contend with. In fact, the World Sunshine Map highlights that Africa receives, on average, more hours of sunshine than any other continent on Earth – creating huge potential for solar power.
At a utility scale, it is the technology’s ability to bring much needed power to the grid quickly that is proving to be one of the biggest advantages of this renewable energy technology.
Developments in the field continue to improve the overall efficiencies of these power stations, adding to their appeal to African energy policy-makers and their professional teams.  Solar Photovoltaic solutions will continue to play an important role in energising remote and outlying areas that are restricted by grid access. In many instances, it would simply be unviable to connect these areas to centralise energy plants, however, solar based technologies can be deployed close to the source of demand.
Solar Photovoltaic offerings are under constant development in order to improve efficiencies, for example Concentrated Photovoltaic (CPV) technologies which aim to focus the sunlight onto smaller area, highly efficient solar cells through the utilization of tracker systems. There is also a drive for the development of low cost solar cells with increased efficiencies and the ability to generate power from a broader solar wavelength spectrum.
The above and other continuous new innovations in the solar field could represent a major leap forward for renewable energy in Africa that will continue to grow access to power on the continent, where many communities on the continent reside in areas till underdeveloped, remote and with minimal access to power.
That being said, other forms of base-load power are still essential to the energy mix of any developing country that relies on energy intensive industries like mining or manufacturing to grow their economy. South Africa is a prime example of the duality of the opportunity here; where solar energy farms have played an invaluable role in bringing energy to the grid while work forges ahead on two large coal-fired power stations, as well as a peaking power plant.
Looking further north; the growing number of solar projects in countries like Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, Mali, Gambia, Kenya and Zambia – as well as a proposed project in Burkina Faso – certainly demonstrate the continent’s growing interest in solar power.
The localised opportunity
As many countries in Africa continue to grapple with getting their power output and supply to match demand levels, it is also interesting to note that the continent is following an international trend, in terms of decoupling buildings from national grids, with solar being a major driver of this movement.
Progressing past being a mere back-up power solution combined with complex diesel generator systems; roof-top solar projects are helping to alleviate already constrained grid networks on the continent. Developments in the field in countries like South Africa and Kenya, point to a future consisting of sophisticated flexible grid networks. Here, large base-load projects are complemented by systems that bring power directly to the consumer without the need for investing in long transmission lines. However, there is still much to be done to bolster African distribution infrastructure at municipal level to the point where it is ready to receive these technologies at a larger scale.
Yet, like its utility-scale counterparts, innovations into storage technologies and PV modules, as well as the declining cost of solar systems, has seen it become an essential part of the green building revolution on the continent. Enterprising property developers are increasingly insisting on solar power as critical components of their property assets – complementing their already robust energy efficiency initiatives geared at mitigating their load on the grid.
Although mega projects will remain a top priority on the continent, solar offers immense and unique opportunities to narrow the divide between energy rollout and access to energy. It can more easily be deployed in areas that are remote and underdeveloped, but also has the potential to alleviate some of the burdens associated with delivering much-needed base-load power into national grids.
CAJ News

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