Africa looks to so­lar for com­mu­ni­ties off the grid

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

Above the sacks of seeds and coal, three kerosene lamps gather dust in the tiny shed that Kenyan chicken farmer Bernard calls home. He prefers to use so­lar en­ergy to light up his evenings, lis­ten to the ra­dio or watch tele­vi­sion, af­ter aban­don­ing a diesel gen­er­a­tor he said was ex­pen­sive to main­tain and burned fuel too quickly. “So­lar pan­els are a good, cheap so­lu­tion,” he told AFP. Across the con­ti­nent, con­sumers are opt­ing for their own off-grid so­lar so­lu­tions to power homes and small busi­nesses, even as African gov­ern­ments un­veil mas­sive new so­lar projects seem­ingly ev­ery month to ex­pand their grids.

Ac­cord­ing to In­ter­na­tional En­ergy Agency pro­jec­tions, al­most one bil­lion peo­ple in sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa will gain ac­cess to the grid by 2040, but by that time 530 mil­lion will re­main off-grid, al­most com­pa­ra­ble with the 600 mil­lion who can­not ac­cess power to­day.

Gov­ern­ments have ramped up their ef­forts: on Africa’s At­lantic coast, Sene­gal last month in­au­gu­rated a mas­sive 20 megawatt (MW) project that will de­liver en­ergy to 160,000 peo­ple, which Pres­i­dent Macky Sall saluted as ush­er­ing in “a new, cleanen­ergy era”. But Mouhamadou Makhtar Cisse, di­rec­tor-gen­eral of na­tional util­ity Sen­elec, un­der­lined up­com­ing prob­lems in an in­ter­view with AFP. “We ac­tu­ally have an ex­cess of 100MW of power,” he said. “But we have a dis­tri­bu­tion problem. We have been think­ing in terms of roads and rail­ways... but not about elec­tric­ity high­ways.”

With around 55 to 65 per­cent of homes re­ceiv­ing elec­tric­ity, Sene­gal’s grid strength is above av­er­age for sub­Sa­ha­ran Africa, whereas in South Su­dan and Liberia this hov­ers be­tween one and two per­cent. But even in Sene­gal, neigh­bor­ing Mau­ri­ta­nia and Rwanda, which have all in­vested in large-scale so­lar projects as the cost of pan­els tum­ble, the twin chal­lenges of limited grids and Africa’s de­mo­graph­ics re­main.

‘Space for in­no­va­tion’

“The grid and the off-grid are so far apart right now that it’s cre­at­ing a huge space for in­no­va­tion,” en­thuses An­drew Her­scowitz, co­or­di­na­tor for US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s Power Africa ini­tia­tive. Power Africa, which iden­ti­fies gov­ern­ments and busi­nesses re­quir­ing sus­tain­able and af­ford­able en­ergy and of­fers fund­ing and ex­per­tise in more than 15 coun­tries, has taken a par­tic­u­lar in­ter­est in so­lar. Power Africa is push­ing this re­new­able source so that peo­ple “don’t have to wait for the grid to ar­rive to them, they can ac­cess a com­pany to­day and have a so­lar panel put on their roof,” Her­scowitz told AFP.

BOKOUL, Sene­gal: This file photo shows tech­ni­cians op­er­at­ing elec­tri­cal cab­i­nets dur­ing the open­ing cer­e­mony of a new pho­to­voltaic en­ergy pro­duc­tion site in Bokhol.—AFP

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