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Unlocking Africa's Solar Potential

13 July, 2014

Source: ICT Africa

Kihara Kimachia:

Seven places in Africa are amongst the top ten regions with the most sunshine. These are Aswan in Egypt, Dongola in Sudan, Faya-Largeau in Chad, Upington Northern Cape in South Africa, Bilma in Niger, Tulear (Toliara) in Madagascar and Lodwar in Kenya. These regions average nine to ten sunshine hours a day. The only other place in the world that enjoys a higher number of sunshine hours is Yuma in Arizona, United States which averages 11 hours.

Clearly, most of the world's sunny places are found in Africa. According to a study by the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), "many parts of sub-Saharan Africa feature daily solar radiation of between 4 kWh and 6 kWh per square meter". In fact, some energy experts claim that covering a mere three percent of the Sahara desert with solar power plants has the potential to provide all of the world's power needs. Yet, for many years this solar potential has remained untapped.

Sub-Saharan Africa (excluding South Africa) generates roughly 30 gigawatts from fossil fuels and other renewable sources; roughly equivalent to the total output of Argentina. A quarter of this installed capacity is erratic due to aging power infrastructure and disrepair. Consequently, Sub-Saharan Africa has one of the lowest rates of electricity access at a mere 24 percent. Access in the rural areas is only 8 percent with over two-thirds of the population relying on biomass energy.

Generating electricity from solar power is capital intensive. This has been the greatest stumbling block to the exploitation of solar power in Africa. But, in recent years, there has been a surge in solar power investments. According to UNEP, South Africa is currently the world's fastest growing clean energy investment. The country has an ambitious initiative to reduce its coal dependency by generating at least 18 gigawatts of clean energy by 2030. This has led to a series of investments in clean energy, the most recent being Google's first foray into Africa's solar power industry. In 2013, Google invested $12 million in the Jasper Power Project, a 96 MW solar plant in Northern Cape. Upon completion, Jasper is expected to be one of the largest solar power plants in Africa with the capability of generating enough power for 30,000 homes.

Other similar projects in the works include; a 50 megawatt plant planned for Garissa in Kenya, the 155 megawatt plant Nzema Project in Ghana which is expected to completed by 2015, a 75 megawatt plant in Kalkbult also in South Africa's Northern Cape, a 160 megawatt concentrated solar power technology plant near Ouarzazate in Morocco and the massive Desertec project which though still a concept, would provide a considerable part of the electricity demand of the middle east and north Africa countries and also provide Europe with 15 percent of its electricity needs by harnessing the solar power potential of the Sahara Desert.

Such investments in large-scale solar power projects are a good sign they can transform Africa, a continent with a fast growing population and increased energy demands to support economic growth.


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