Off-Grid Solar Energy in Africa

It is estimated that 70% of people in sub-Saharan Africans live without access to an electricity grid. Africa is the only continent where this percentage is expected to reach 75%-80% by 2030. In addition, Africa’s total power capacity is currently only 147 GW, according to the African Development Bank, which is equivalent to the total capacity installed in Belgium, and what China installs every one to two years. Therefore, it is obvious that there is a huge energy requirement for the whole continent in order to provide electricity to the people, reduce poverty and achieve a substantial level of economic development.

Fossil fuel-based power generation is not a choice if we want to combat climate change and also is the most expensive form of energy globally. However, remains the largest source of electricity generation in Africa.

An alternative and winning ground idea is off grid solar energy. In the last few years over 7 million off-grid Africans have replaced their kerosene lamps with solar lights.  Africa can pursue clean energy development based on solar energy and diversify its fossil fuels dependency path. According to some environmental journalists the reasons for supporting off-grid solar energy are at least four.

First, the savings for a family’s budget from solar light is significant. According to SolarAid, one of the organisations introducing solar lights to Africa, by replacing kerosene with solar power LED light in Tanzania, typically you can save more than a dollar a week. This is a significant amount of money for the 48 percent of the sub-Saharan people that live on less than $1.25 a day.

Second, solar power can be expanded and connected. A family can get one panel and replace a kerosene lamp. With two and three panels they are able to charge a mobile phone, use radio, TV etc.  In other words, the solar generation could add to a family’s life different consumer products and can also team up with a neighbor and build a small local grid.

Third, the efficiency and the cost of developing solar panels. The solar light uses five to 10 times less energy than the old incandescent light. Moreover, subsidies have turned photovoltaic panels into a commodity with a rapidly falling price. What looked 10 years ago like a rich government’s game now is simply cheap and it has potentials for further technological improvement.

Fourth, solar, and other renewable energy technologies do not need the hugely expensive power infrastructure required to bring the electricity generated by a nuclear reactor or a coal power block 2,000 kilometers to a poor African village.

Some successful examples in the private sector are M-KOPA and Mobisol in East Africa. So far in Kenya around 744 public places in isolated areas, from health centers to schools, has been hooked up to off-grid solar power through the initiative. Five off-grid stations have been put in place and as they enjoy solid internal rate of returns (IRR) of 20 percent, the operation is being expanded to build new plants and also make existing ones bigger.

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References:

Can Africa leapfrog the carbon energy age?,Julian Popov

Electrifying Kenya: How One African Country is Approaching Renewable Energy Development , Sherelle Jacobs

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