Can Africa Put its Bet on Solar Energy to Support its Economic Growth?

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The African Sun for Africa’s Growth

Solar energy – African economies’ secret weapon. This was the headline of an article published in CNN earlier this year. It reinforced the recent global consensus on Africa that this region which receives generous quantities of sunlight throughout the year has become a haven for renewable energy for countries with high energy requirements.

Mr. Garai Makokoro, director of the Energy Technology Institute in Zimbawe told Africa Renewal, “African countries must think outside the box. The sun is free and inexhaustible. Solar technology — photovoltaic panels — converts the sun’s radiation directly into electricity with no pollution or damage to the environment. The panels can generate enough power to run stoves, pump water, light clinics and power televisions. Africa has one of the best climates for this type of energy.”

Africa today stands in a position where it should and must ride the wave of need for renewable energy. Energy was earlier viewed in a different perspective, more as an auxiliary instrument for developing financial stability of a country, but never as a direct agent or facilitator of economic growth. Things have changed today. Energy has become an absolute necessity for economic growth and social development.

Under such circumstances Africa stands to emerge as a superpower of energy hub with its colossal solar energy production potential.


A difficult climb

Despite receiving sunshine almost 325 days a year, most parts of the continent still lie in darkness. The International Energy Agency figures reveal that even today 59% of the population in Africa has no access to electricity of which 80% are living in the rural areas.

With the national grid expansion demand completely outstripping the supply, Africans have constantly faced a huge energy shortage. Rural electrification is an issue the continent has struggled with for too long. Kerosene, charcoal and firewood have been used as popular light sources despite their dangerous nature. Africa, however, has now realized the immense energy resource it has in the form of solar power and is working toward solar panel powered growth and development.


South Africa: The Leading Energy Investment Nation

South Africa is leading the pack in bringing about rapid economic development in the continent. The last year saw South Africa registering the world’s highest growth in renewable energy investment, according to the U.N Environment Program (UNEP). The figures went up from a few hundred million dollars to $5.7 billion in a year. South Africa is unambiguously the world’s fastest growing renewable energy market today.

Large scale investments have been pouring in. Google, which has spent more than $1 billion in renewable energy projects in the United States and Europe, has now invested $12 million into the Jasper Power Project in South Africa, a 96-MW solar photovoltaic plant in Northern Cape.

South African Deputy President KgalemaMothlane in his address at the South African Green Energy Youth Summit in Cape Town earlier this year had said, “South Africa with its vast renewable energy resources has the potential to become one of the world’s fastest growing economic hubs.”

With the investments trickling into the large –scale solar power projects, one surely sees light at the end of the tunnel and hopes South Africa along with other African nations shall solve the dire energy poverty faced in rural Africa. With sunset the lives of most rural Africans are rendered unproductive, and they are enveloped in darkness which does not allow them to carry out or complete any important economic tasks. This scenario is expected to change soon.


Ambitious Energy Investment Projects in other parts of Africa

Many African nations are transforming the continent by tapping the abundance of solar energy, nature has gifted them with. Not only are they trying to provide appropriate and affordable energy for rural electrification within the continent, but are also attracting foreign investment in the projects to boost the African economy.

  • Africa’s biggest solar PV plant was launched in Mauritiana in April this year, a 15-MW facility that is designed to account for 10% of the country’s energy capacity. Morocco began the first phase of the construction of a 160-MW concentrated solar power technology plant near Ouarzazate. This is a part of the country’s efforts to produce 2,000 MW of solar energy by 2020.
  • The ambitious $400 million and 155-MW Nzema project has also been announced by the British company Blue Energy in Ghana which is to begin next year.


Moving toward a solar lit future

The Economist had regrettably labeled Africa “the hopeless continent” at the turn of the new millennium. From then till today a big change has taken place and Africa has progressed immensely. Six of the 10 most rapidly developing countries in the world are from Africa. Many of them are emerging as economic powerhouses and to keep up with the pace of the development, massive energy requirements will be generated. Moving toward renewable solar energy does not simply allow it to meet its internal energy needs but also makes it an energy hub for the nations of the world who are looking for alternative inexhaustible sources of energy. Solar Power is Africa’s card to a sunnier future.

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