Africa’s electricity industry is encumbered with lots of challenges. They range from poor governance, lack of adequate planning, aging equipment, corruption and the dearth of adequate financing. Most of Africa’s electricity is provided through centralized fossil fuel generated plants when the world is fast moving towards distributed, decarbonized and digitized electric systems. Nigeria is Africa’s largest economy with a population of about 180 million has less than 10,000 mw of electricity. Moreover, Nigeria is adjudged to be one of the world’s leading off grid nations powered by generators at a cost of over $5billion dollars annually. So, how solar innovations are rising in Africa?
Access to electricity
The lack of electricity and adequate cooking fuel has a lot of negative impacts socially, economically and environmentally. Having access to electricity is more expensive in Africa than in other developed or developing parts of the world. Africans trek long distances to carry out simple tasks like charging their mobile phones. The use of alternatives like generating sets has its own challenges. Indeed, the high cost involved, the noise and negative environmental impact due to fumes from the generating sets. Matter of fact, lots of Africans have died from inhaling toxic smoke. All came from the generating sets while other have suffered from explosions.
Despite all the aforementioned, there seems to be a revolution that is gradually taking place across the continent from Cape to Cairo. Africa is experiencing a rapid transition to cleaner forms of energy. They work on renewable energy technologies like hydro, biomass, geothermal and wind. Despite the gains made using these technologies, the most promising seems to be the explosion of Solar technologies all across the continent.
The promise of solar innovations
Solar is the most promising of all renewable energy technologies. Indeed, there are many advantages it has over other GREEN technologies. There are two primary types of Solar technology for generating electricity comprising of:
- Concentrated Solar Power (CSP)
- Solar Photovoltaic (PV)
CSP uses mirrors to heat fluids whose steam is used to power turbines. Photovoltaics on the other hand convert sunlight directly into electricity. For a start, most of Africa is blessed with a lot of sunshine which is far more than that of other climes like Germay which is the world leader in solar technologies installed. Solar is an exponential technology which is experiencing massive growth as a result of falling technology costs, improvements in the technology and growing awareness. It is far cheaper, faster and safer to install solar technologies than other technologies like coal, natural gas, oil, wind etc.
Africa is experiencing an explosion in the number of off grid electricity generation in recent times. Off grid electricity refers to the generation of electricity that is not connected to the national grid. It is a cheaper and more effective way of reaching the millions of Africans that have no access to electricity on the continent. The rise of solar mini-grid technologies is not only providing electricity but transforming the lives of Africans across the continent. New businesses are being established and existing ones are experiencing a new lease of life as business owners stay longer and get more income from using solar. The advent of mini-grid is attracting a lot of funding from countries, international organizations and impact investors around the world.
Solar Home Systems
In addition to mini-grids, micro generation through the use of Solar Home Systems is experiencing a very rapid growth connecting millions of Africans with basic electricity across the continent. Led by companies such as Mkopa, Lumos, Asteven and several others, these solar enterprises provide solutions using innovative business models. They leverage on mobile technology to provide electricity on a pay as you go basis which unlocks the solar home system with payments made through mobile cash transfers.
Despite the aforementioned progress, there is still a very long way to go to meet the electricity needs of the continent. The cost of GREEN technologies is still way above the income of most Africans and there is a need for subsidies to be granted. Though the technologies have improved drastically compared to what was available previously, there are still complains on the efficiency of some of the systems. Another criticism of the system is that they only provide basic electricity such as lamps for lighting, radio and phone charging. Another major disadvantage of the systems is the fact that few African governments have committed to deploying solar technologies. The issue of taxes and high tariffs is another major impediment to the growth of Solar in Nigeria.
Positive impact of solar technologies for Africa
Regardless of the challenges enumerated above, the Solar technologies are experiencing massive growth and should be encouraged. African countries like Morocco, South Africa and Kenya are taking the lead in supporting Solar technologies. Nigeria is also experiencing a massive uptake of both mini grids and solar home systems through the support of the Rural Electrification Agency.
Organizations like the African Development Bank are investing a lot of money in Solar and recently pledged to provide millions of funding for Solar. All On for instance in partnership with Shell is providing funding for the deployment of renewable energy in Nigeria. What is required for Solar to reach an inflection point of providing electricity in Africa is funding, technology and enabling government policies. Africa has what it takes to transform itself from a continent without adequate electricity to one with sufficient electricity. All stakeholders most come together to ensure the continent morphs from a dark continent to a GREEN continent powered by Solar technologies.