ABU DHABI, Feb 20 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A “solar
revolution” is coming to Africa, comparable in scale and
importance to the rapid surge in mobile phone use on the
continent two decades ago, predicts the head of the
International Renewable Energy Agency.
Fast-dropping costs for solar power, combined with plenty of
sun and a huge need for electricity on a continent where many
are still without it, means solar has huge potential in Africa,
said Adnan Amin, the director general of IRENA.
“Africa’s solar potential is enormous,” he said in an
interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation. The continent
gets 117 percent more sunshine than Germany, which today has the
highest installed solar power capacity, he said.
“It has never been more possible and less expensive for
Africa to realise this potential,” he said.
Both grid-connected solar power and off-grid solar energy
now offer “cost-competitive means to meet rising energy needs
and bring electricity to the 600 million Africans who currently
lack access”, Amin said.
Innovations – including better transmission and storage for
solar power, and new payment systems – also mean using more
solar power in Africa could boost economies and create jobs for
millions of people across the continent, he said.
"Africa’s vast solar potential presents a huge opportunity
for people to engage in a range of economic activities such as
irrigation and agro-processing, and it is already beginning to
happen,” said the Nairobi- born Amin.
MORE INNOVATION, LESS COST
Solar can have high upfront costs, compared to traditional
fuels, but a number of technological and financing advances –
such as pay-as-you-go solar, with payments made by mobile phone
– are helping deal with that problem, he said.
Even the higher initial costs are coming down, he said, with
solar panel prices expected to continue falling. The price of
producing power from solar mini-grids – installations
unconnected to larger national grid systems – is expected to
fall by at least 60 percent over the next two decades.
“The rapid rise of pay-as-you-go solar home systems and
integration with mobile payment technology is an example of the
speed of innovation that is taking place. In East Africa alone,
over 450,000 such systems have been deployed,” he said.
IRENA estimates that up to 60 million Africans already may
be using off-grid renewable electricity of some kind.
RIGHT POLICY CRUCIAL
But for use of solar to dramatically expand further,
countries will need sound regulatory frameworks, master plans
that help draw in local investors, and a sufficient number of
entrepreneurs, Amin said.
Government finance institutions will also need to help cut
the risks investors face in financing large solar projects in
order to keep interest rates for loans low, he said.
That view is shared by Snehar Shah, director of solar
company Azuri East Africa, which has sold over 100,000 solar
home systems in East Africa over the last four years.
He believes the majority of people in East Africa living
away from national power grids will need to rely on solar for
energy – and that emerging innovations will persuade them to do
“Just as landline telephones once were the preserve of
elites in Africa but mobile telephones are now owned by nearly
everyone, solar power presents much larger possibilities for
expansion than grid power,” Shah said.
“Solar is cost effective when compared to the cost of
getting connected to grid electricity in Africa and it is
stable, ensuring that outages, which are a daily thing with grid
(power), are non-existent," he said.
Reliability "is one thing that is attracting people to
solar”, he said.
Solar firms such as Azuri not only offer solar panels but
also accessories to make the most of that power, such as
efficient LED lights, televisions, torches, phone chargers and
radios, Shah said. The company also provides finance for
customers, cutting out the need to seek separate bank loans.
Crafting policies to support the growth of solar power will
be key for continued uptake of it, said Pavel Oimeke, director
of renewable energy for the Kenya Energy Regulatory Commission.
Some African countries have lowered or removed duties on the
import of solar equipment and appliances, while others – such as
Kenya – have set attractive feed-in tariffs for renewable energy
to attract investment in solar power plants.
(Reporting by Maina Waruru; editing by Laurie Goering :; Please
credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of
Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change,
resilience, women's rights, trafficking and property rights.