Africa has so many renewable energy sources like photovoltaic energy to support economic growth and energy security. Solar PV encourages a cost-effective and rapid way to give utility-scale electricity. Solar PV is capable of providing electric power to over 600 million Africans. So, what are the opportunities and challenges of solar energy in Africa?
Africa offers the installation of a solar energy scale of 4.5kWh/kWp/day, the highest in the world. Also, since 2012 the utility-scale generated by solar energy projects in Africa has reduced to 61% lower than USD 1.30 per watt. However, some of the challenges are the high cost of production and waste management.
Currently, over 5 million African households use off-grid systems like pay-as-you-go. As such, the estimate of an African off-grid solar market offers an opportunity of $24 billion yearly. Moreover, IRENA estimates that with the best enabling policy, Africa’s power generation through solar energy will grow to 70 Gigawatts in 2030.
Hence, let’s look at Africa’s solar power potential, opportunities, and challenges.
Solar Power Potential in Africa
The figure above from the World Bank’s Global Solar Atlas and analyzed by Statista shows the solar power potential in Africa. Africa’s solar power potential of 4.51kWh/kWp per day of long-term usage exceeds that of other continents.
For instance, North America is far behind by 4.37kWh/kWp/ per day. However, about 20% of the world’s population in 70 countries lives in excellent solar conditions. This means the long-term output of these countries will exceed 4.5kWh/kWp solar usage per day.
Solar Energy Opportunities in Africa
The long duration of sunshine on the whole continent makes solar energy ideal to use. However, the theoretical solar energy reserves in Africa are estimated to be 60,000,000 TWh/year. This makes Africa the world’s sun-rich continent.
Recently, more than half sub-Saharan population does not have access to electricity. This is why people with light pay four times more than the electricity bill of other countries. But with the use of solar energy, this issue can be resolved.
Let’s look at other solar energy opportunities:
By reducing costs and increasing eco-friendly features, the growth potential of solar energy can be realized. If the cost of solar energy systems is reduced, more users will emerge, thereby increasing the growth potential of power. African nations consider solar energy as a way to increase urbanization, renewable energy generation, and economic development. But the accessories and installation systems should be affordable for all users to access easily.
With increased economic growth in Africa, the demand for solar energy will increase. These demands can come from real estate companies, hospitality, hotels, and even healthcare operators. Also, individuals who run large businesses dependent on high electricity consumption will demand solar energy. This is because solar energy generation projects will be more cost-effective and are renewable energy sources.
Overseas investors invested above $34.7 billion in the renewable energy sectors from 2011 to 2020. Hence, Investment countries like the US, UK, Spain, and Italy invested above $20 billion in solar energy. Although in June, the world’s G7 summit agreed to invest over $80 billion in the renewable energy sector. So, a renewable energy source like solar energy gets so many investors in the short or long term, which will be great for the future of Africa.
The African government is changing many policies to benefit the renewable energy industry. With the focus on generating 500GW by 2030, these policies are created to accommodate the solar energy industry. However, the government is still nurturing these policies. But it means that the solar energy industry will soon have unhindered support from many African countries.
The support will boost solar energy production in Africa. For instance, a late 2020 Rooftop Solar Program in Botswana generated up to 8MW for commercial industries and 2MW for residential buildings in its first year.
Increased access due to off-grid systems
The off-grid market is rapidly growing through solar installations. Also, an off-grid solution involves projects to offer electricity to underserved communities. They enable the household to lease solar energy on a pay-as-you-go basis. Many communities in Africa will prefer such a method of electricity consumption.
Challenges of solar energy in Africa
Despite the opportunities involved with using solar energy in Africa, many challenges are attached to it. A key challenge of using solar energy in Africa is insufficient sunshine. African countries that lie entirely in the wet-humid zones, like Gabon, Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, etc., are prone to this challenge.
However, sunny African nations like Egypt, Niger, Sudan, etc., will never experience this challenge. Below are other challenges of solar energy in Africa:
Land availability is one of the biggest challenges in the solar sector. This is because the solar PV plant needs a vast array of land for its setup. So countries with land ownership issues, terrains, and local politics might not have adequate space for solar plants.
Management of waste
All growing industries produce waste, and solar is not different from them. Despite the solar module having a life of 25 years old, when it gets damaged, it gets disposed of. These contribute to the quantity of waste in the country.
Huge manufacturing cost
So much solar plant equipment is imported from overseas because of their delicate and expensive cost. State and central policies contribute to the reduced growth of the solar industry since they’re not supporting these projects. But the year 2014 brought rapid growth in the solar industry due to the reduced cost of equipment and manufacturing.
Before indulging in the production of solar PVs, you need to be sure the business can handle all necessary expenses by itself. Also, be sure the company can sustain itself financially in the long term. Moreover, consider the possibility of bringing in staff and paying them from the business profit. That’s why you must source the right funding mechanism for the business.
Solar energy in Africa has many growth potentials, opportunities, and challenges. If most African governments support the industry, the potential will be maximized while the challenges will almost non-existent.
Currently, South Africa produces the highest solar power of 1329MW since its installation in 2016. As a result, their diesel usage has been reduced by more than half. Thus, making solar power a great alternative source of renewable energy generation.