- Burkina Faso
- Cape Verde
- Central African Republic
- D.R. Congo
- Equatorial Guinea
- Guinea Bissau
- Ivory Coast
- São Tomé and Príncipe
- Sierra Leone
- South Africa
- South Sudan
Friday, December 06, 2019
Africa's Alternative Energy
There are 600 million people without access to electricity in Africa, 71 million of them in Nigeria. However, from off-grid solar home systems to utility-scale solar and wind, the potential for major advances in the use of renewable energy is also growing rapidly on the African continent.
With stepped-up adoption of these technologies, African countries could contribute significantly to mitigating the global climate crisis. This would also reduce the ongoing damage to the health of their citizens, whether from kerosene lamps in rural areas, gasoline generators to backup unreliable power grids, or massive coal pollution in South Africa.
East African countries have pioneered off-grid solar, laying out a model that other African countries could follow. While rural areas are still the primary markets for solar home systems, power grids in most African countries are so prone to power outages that many homes and businesses on the grid must rely on gasoline or diesel generators for backup. Solar systems can already begin to replace smaller generators, and further technological progress could make even larger systems cost-effective.
South Africa is still overwhelmingly dependent on expensive and unreliable coal-fired power plants, which supply 77 percent of the country’s electricity. Recent studies show that for new energy installations, renewable energy is already the cheapest.
“There is no reasonable basis for building new coal plants when the technology and costs are clearly in favour of renewables and flexible generation,” says Makoma Lekalakala of Earthlife Africa. Coal plants built in the 2020s are likely to be abandoned long before they are paid off, the coalition of environmental groups noted.
The South African Parliament has approved a $4 billion bailout for Eskom’s debt, much of it due to cost overruns of $20 billion on the giant Medupi and Kusile coal plants.
And a devastating report by an outside corporate consulting firm concluded that Eskom has become ”an operationally dysfunctional, financially insolvent, unreliable, and corrupt entity,” arguing that urgent attention to fixing these basic problems must take priority over renewable energy. Renewable energy advocates agree that implementation of any plans, including integration of renewables into the grid, requires fundamental reform in Eskom’s management. But, they say, doubling down on coal will worsen rather than improve the situation.
Unless South Africa’s policies change, therefore, the potential for advance in renewable energy is likely to be realized more rapidly by hundreds of thousands of off-grid consumers around the continent than by entrenched power companies such as South Africa’s Eskom.
In September 2019, the Global Off-Grid Lighting Association (GOGLA) reported on research in Kenya, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda with customers of seven off-grid solar companies. Researchers tracked 1,419 customers who bought solar home systems, with interviews at 3 months and 15 months after purchase. Ninety-five percent of respondents reported significant improvement in quality of life, with 95 percent saying they would recommend their product to a friend or relative.
“At this point, we are barely scraping the surface” of potential demand, said Alistair Gordon, chief executive of Lumos, the largest provider of off-grid solar in Nigeria and Côte d’Ivoire. The company currently has 100,000 customers and expects to provide solar power to 100 million people in the next 5-7 years.
There is also the potential to replace backup generators, notes the International Finance Corporation.
“With rapid improvement in efficiency, performance, and economies over recent years, distributed solar and storage technologies now offer a superior and effective alternative to the backup generators that are proliferating across much of the developing world.” In Nigeria alone, an estimated 22 million small gasoline generators (excluding larger diesel generators) are reported to have a collective capacity as much as 8 times the capacity of the electric grid. They are essential to many small businesses as well as to households.