By Anders Lorenzen
Solar power has long been seen as the perfect energy technology to take off in Africa. Solar power will electrify the continent and lift people out of poverty. So far this hasn`t happened, but a new report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (RENA) suggests that this situation could soon be about to change.
The report, Solar PV in Africa: Costs and Markets, explains that due to falling costs, solar PV (PV= photovolta) could become the cheapest way to meet energy needs and electrify the continent.
Those falling costs are quite remarkable. The authors of the report estimate that installed costs for power generated by utility-scale solar PV projects in Africa have decreased by as much as 61 per cent since 2012. Today the installation costs are as low as USD 1.30 per watt in Africa , compared to the global average, which is USD 1.80 per watt.
Director-General of IRENA Adnan Z. Amin believes this offers huge opportunities for Africa, stating: “In recent years, solar PV costs have dropped dramatically and will continue to do so with further declines of up to 59 percent possible in the next ten years. These cost reductions, coupled with vast solar potential on the continent, present a huge opportunity for Africa. Both grid-connected and off-grid solar PV now offer a cost-competitive means to meet rising energy needs, and bring electricity to the 600 million Africans who currently lack access.”
The global trend of rapidly increased solar PV capacity has now reached Africa. In 2014 alone, more than 800 megawatts (MW) of new solar PV capacity were added in Africa, literally doubling the cumulative capacity of the continent. And in 2015 another 750 MW was added. Based on this very positive trend, IRENA estimates that with the right enabling policies, Africa could be home to more than 70 GigaWatts (GW) of solar PV capacity by 2030 .Today’s African capacity is just over 2GW.
A huge contributing factor appears to be solar home systems. These have tripled in the continent between 2010 and 2014. They provide the annual electricity needs of an off-grid household for as little as USD 56 per year. This is less than what they currently pay for poor quality energy services. This means Africans can stop using the polluting and expensive fuels, Diesel and Kerosene.
The potential for solar power has never been a problem in Africa. The continent has the right conditions to be a global solar superpower. Adnan Amin stated that “with solar irradiation levels up to 117 percent higher than in Germany – the country with the highest installed solar power capacity, it has never been more possible, and less expensive for Africa to realise this potential.”
Renewable energy and solar power enthusiasts have long talked up the idea that Africa could leapfrog over the use of dirty and polluting fossil fuels and go straight to clean energy, just the way they did with mobile phones vs landlines. The time for solar PV to shine brightly has finally arrived.