After years of unconverted pipelines, stale financing and cost barriers, utility-scale solar PV in Africa has started to spring up across the continent. The worldwide decline in equipment prices has of course been a pivotal influence, but Sub-Saharan Africa also now hosts a number of support schemes backed by development banks that are driving significant project sizes in a number of countries. Some have suggested that initiatives such as the World Bank’s Scaling Solar programme favour big international players and can only achieve low prices through a generous debt scheme. Thus, one question is what kind of long-term solar industry will be left in the wake of such programmes and for whom? It’s also clear that Africa will have to move even faster than other markets in terms of matching the upgrade of transmission networks to the addition of renewables, since most countries have very small total power capacities and weak grids.
Two years ago, PV Tech Power wrote about ‘flickers of progress’ in West Africa specifically, but project sizes were limited to 20MW at most and despite some momentum, the pace was still regarded as slower than expected. Fast-forward to Q4 2017 and the market kicked off in a convincing way across many parts of Africa, with project completions, major tenders and long-term support polices being regularly announced all the way up to the spring of 2018. This period saw a deluge of headlines from the African continent.
Florence Babirye lives in the town of Kamuli in Eastern Uganda where she is a self-employed mother of five. Before purchasing Fenix International’s ReadyPay Solar system, Florence worried about her children reading at night, due to the extensive health and safety risks that come with using kerosene for lighting. After investing in the kit, Florence said:It has bright lights that power ‘til morning, plus I’m able to charge phones for myself and my neighbors. I no longer worry about my children reading at night and the general safety that comes with it — health-wise, security.”
ReadyPay Power customers pay as little as $0.19 per day to access power for lighting and phone charging at an entry level, with the option to add more power for larger products such as TVs, radios and cooking stoves. After 24–36 months of payments, customers own the solar home system outright. Based on the credit score customers establish while paying off their power systems, they are able to purchase upgrades to their energy system, energy-efficient appliances, or other life-changing financial products such as loans for school fees. The impact of solar home kits for women like Florence can be transformative.
(Reuters/Amina Ismail, 10 May 2018)
China’s GCL Group has signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Egypt’s ministry of military production to build a solar panel facility at a cost of up to $2 billion, state-run newspaper Al-Ahram reported on Thursday. Under the MOU, which was signed on Wednesday, the facility will manufacture panels capable of producing 5 gigawatts (GW) annually, it said, without mentioning the location or timeframe of the project. Egypt in 2014 announced extensive plans to develop renewable energy targeting 4.3 GW of wind and solar projects to be installed over three years, but many investors pulled out following contract disputes. Egypt aims to meet 20 percent of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2022. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, a former general who took office in 2014, has promised to revive the economy, which has struggled since a 2011 uprising scared away investors and tourists, Egypt’s main sources of foreign currency.
Mini-grids can get power to the people with government support that is simple, equitable and results-focused. As global energy systems evolve to be smarter, cleaner, and more consumer-centric, sub-Saharan Africa has a unique opportunity to build the power grid of the future, while also connecting more than 600 million people to electricity for the first time. Achieving these objectives, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), will depend largely on renewable, reliable, and modular community-based power plants and distribution systems called mini-grids. It will also require commitment from both the private sector and the public sector. The private sector will need to bring innovation, efficiency, relentless emphasis on customer service, and private capital.