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Africa Pushing Renewable Energy and Micro-grids

published: 2018-09-12 10:14

African nations have been pushing vigorously renewable energies, including PV power, wind power, and hydraulic power, in order to solve chronic power shortage, as 640 million African people, or two thirds of the continent's population, are still denied access to power supply, blocking its economic development.

Given lower cost and need of fewer facilities, renewable energy featuring small distributed devices is suited to Africa, which lacks utilities and infrastructure for traditional large-scale power plants, such as substations and high-voltage transmission lines.

During the summit meeting in Paris in 2015, the African Renewable Energy Initiative (AREI) was rolled out, calling for installation of 10 GW capacity by 2020, as part of the effort boosting the accumulated capacity to 300 GW by 2030, with US$500 billion budget for a 20-year period.

Thanks to drop in green-energy cost and technological advancement, the International Energy Agency (IEA) pointed out that vast energy demands will push development of renewable energy in Sub-Saharan Africa, such as hydraulic power in Ethiopia, PV power in Namibia and Nigeria, and wind power in South Africa, which may augment accumulated green-energy capacity of the continent by over 70%.

65% of the construction works of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project along the Nile boasting 6,000 MW hydraulic-power capacity, for instance, has been completed, while Kenya already put in place a large-scale onshore wind farm in 2017, containing 365 850 KW wind turbines, totaling 310 MW in capacity, the largest in Africa.

Development of renewable energy in Africa, however, is faced with a number of hurdles, including high transaction cost and risk, plus high tariffs. Alex Harrison, partner for energy at international legal consulting firm Hogan Lovells, urged African countries to have definite and reasonable tariffs, so as to encourage green-energy investments by both domestic and overseas developers, on top of adoption of simplified transparent flow for green-energy procurement.

Although standardization of green-energy procurement can speed up green-energy deployment and flow, it is a very difficult task, given divergence in the property markets, loans, politics, and demands among African countries.

Under the Scaling Solar program, the International Finance Corp. (IFC) of the World Bank has joined hands with Ethiopia, Madagascar, Zambia, and Senegal in carrying out analysis for private PV power projects, in terms of law, management, and technology, on top of preparation for and participation in opening biddings and financing, in the hope that those projects can begin to operate at competitive rates within two years. In Zambia, 600 MW PV power capacity has been installed under the program.

Given the sporadic nature of PV power, the World Bank is considering to incorporate energy-storage projects into the Scaling Solar program.

The development of renewable energy is crucial to Africa, as in addition to large-scale projects, distributed facilities and micro-grids can be established before being integrated under multiple virtual power-plant schemes, forming into a large-scale grid, to supply the need of everyone.

(First photo courtesy of Scaling Solar, written by Daisy Chuang)

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