Africa turns to sun­shine to meet power de­mand

Lesotho Times - - Business -

LONDON — Cut in half by the equa­tor, sun­shine is one thing that Africa has in abun­dance. Now a grow­ing num­ber of African en­ter­prises are tap­ping this un­der-utilised source to keep their busi­nesses run­ning. One of Kenya’s largest tea pro­duc­ers, Wil­liamson Tea, has in­stalled a 1 megawatt (MW) plant at an es­tate in the Rift Val­ley, slash­ing grid re­liance by nearly a third and re­duc­ing the need for back-up diesel gen­er­a­tors. To put this in per­spec­tive, a sin­gle MW can gen­er­ally power sev­eral hun­dred mid­dle­class house­holds.

So­lar­century, the company be­hind Wil­liamson Tea’s in­stal­la­tion, has also been con­tracted to build an 858 kilo­watt plant on the park­ing lot of a Nairobi mall, and says there is a po­ten­tial 40 MW pipe­line across four east African coun­tries. “One thing many coun­tries in Africa have is plenty of sun­shine and now we are at a stage where the cost of so­lar tech­nol­ogy can en­able them to use that sun­shine to get low cost power,” said So­lar­century’s re­gional di­rec­tor Dan Davies.

The Bri­tish-based firm tar­gets in­ten­sive en­ergy users such as flower farms that need to keep cut roses re­frig­er­ated well in ad­vance of Valen­tine’s or Moth­ers’ Day. Over-stretched African na­tional grids of­ten lapse into dark­ness as rapid eco­nomic growth piles pres­sure on elec­tric­ity net­works al­ready lag­ging de­mand.

The 48 coun­tries of sub-sa­ha­ran Africa, with a com­bined pop­u­la­tion of 800 mil­lion, pro­duce roughly the same amount of power as Spain, a coun­try of just 46 mil­lion peo­ple.

To keep ma­chines run­ning, com­pa­nies have had to invest in diesel gen­er­a­tors, one of the more ex­pen­sive sources of power. Gov­ern­ments too are con­tract­ing in­de­pen­dent pro­duc­ers to run ex­pen­sive heavy-oil-fired gen­er­a­tors to plug net­work short­falls. Most sub-sa­ha­ran coun­tries do not have much so­lar en­ergy and de­pend on hy­dro-power, coal or nat­u­ral gas to turn tur­bines. Gen­er­a­tors us­ing gaso­line or diesel cost at least $300 per megawatt hour (MWH), es­ti­mates the In­ter­na­tional En­ergy Agency (IEA), while so­lar power is nearly as ex­pen­sive at $200 per MWH.

With hy­dropower typ­i­cally much cheaper, at less than $75, and coal gen­er­a­tion as lit­tle as $50 per MWH, it will take decades for so­lar to reach cost par­ity.“if it is re­plac­ing or dis­plac­ing oil-fired power, then it would make sense,” IEA an­a­lyst Brent Wan­ner said, adding that so­lar will re­main most suit­able as an op­tion in re­mote ar­eas. South Africa this week added 96MW to its grid with the launch of the largest so­lar park on the con­ti­nent in the re­mote and sparse­ly­pop­u­lated North­ern Cape prov­ince. Africa’s most ad­vanced econ­omy is a so­lar power out­lier, with over 500MW in­stalled.there is also a move­ment on the world’s poor­est con­ti­nent to­wards green al­ter­na­tives such as geo­ther­mal, so­lar and wind, with some coun­tries us­ing in­cen­tives such as decades­long power pur­chase agree­ments to en­tice in­de­pen­dent pro­duc­ers. Some are also work­ing on leg­is­la­tion to gov­ern pur­chases of so­lar power from small pro­duc­ers. Kenya is pi­lot­ing a me­ter­ing project with pri­vately run Strath­more Univer­sity to im­port sur­plus elec­tric­ity from a 600kw roof-top plant. In Rwanda, U.s.-based Gi­gawatt Global con­nected an 8.5 MW farm on rolling green hills east of Ki­gali to the grid ear­lier this year. The $24 mil­lion farm now ac­counts for 7 per­cent of Rwanda’s power sup­ply.

Gi­gawatt Global’s Sarah Halevi said the company was see­ing strong de­mand in both west and east Africa. The company plans to build 200MW within the next 18 months in Nige­ria and is tar­get­ing a 1000MW pipe­line by 2020. — Reuters

SO­LAR­CENTURY is plan­ning to in­stall what it says will be the largest roof-top sys­tem in South Africa

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