The sun is rising on an African solar revolution

25Mar 2020
The Guardian
The sun is rising on an African solar revolution

Many countries have installed significant solar power capacity into their electrical grids to supplement or provide an alternative to conventional energy sources.

Solar power plants use one of two technologies: Photovoltaic (PV) systems use solar panels, either on rooftops or in ground-mounted solar farms, converting sunlight directly into electric power. Concentrated solar power (CSP, also known as "concentrated solar thermal") plants use solar thermal energy to make steam, that is thereafter converted into electricity by a turbine.

Worldwide growth of photovoltaics is extremely dynamic and varies strongly by country. By the end of 2016, cumulative photovoltaic capacity increased by more than 75 gigawatt (GW) and reached at least 303 GW, sufficient to supply approximately 1.8 per cent of the world's total electricity consumption. The top installers of 2016 were China, the United States, and India.  There are more than 24 countries around the world with a cumulative PV capacity of more than one gigawatt. Austria, Chile, and South Africa, all crossed the one gigawatt-mark in 2016. The available solar PV capacity in Honduras is now sufficient to supply 12.5 per cent of the nation's electrical power while Italy, Germany and Greece can produce between 7 per cent and 8 per cent of their respective domestic electricity consumption.  

After an almost two decade long hiatus, deployment of CSP resumed in 2007. However, the design for several new projects is being changed to cheaper photovoltaics.  Most operational CSP stations are located in Spain and the United States, while large solar farms using photovoltaics are being constructed in an expanding list of geographic regions. As of January 2017, the largest solar power plants in the world are the 850 MW Longyangxia Dam Solar Park in China for PV and the 377 MW Ivanpah Solar Power Facility in the United States for CSP.

In the same vein, a new report released by the German Solar Association (BSW-Solar) and the Becquerel Institute have revealed that with the arrival of many international investors and the race for solar projects, Africa is on track to multiply its current solar capacity six-fold or 30 gigawatts (GW) by 2030.

According to the Solarise Africa Market Report, the solar potential in Africa is at least as great as the demand.

It is estimated that Africa will need about 2,000 terawatt hours (TWh) of photovoltaic energy to decarbonize the continent’s electricity consumption by 2040.

The report was based on an analysis of the top 10 African countries with the highest solar potential, namely: Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, Ghana, Algeria, Ethiopia, Angola, Namibia, South Africa and Tanzania.The report indicates that Africa accounts for only 1 per cent of the world’s installed photovoltaic capacity. However, during 2018, the continent developed an additional 1 GW, representing a 25 per cent growth rate for the sector.

In February 2016, Morocco inaugurated “Noor”, the seventh largest thermodynamic solar power plant in the world. Only eight months later, in October 2016, Senegal inaugurated “Senergy 2”, the largest solar power plant in West Africa with 75,000 photovoltaic panels and a capacity of 20 megawatts (MW), covering the needs of 200,000 Senegalese households.

The most recent, the Zagtouli power plant in Burkina Faso, with a maximum production capacity of 33 MW, has in turn become the largest solar farm in West Africa.

The Egyptian government announced, last week, the inauguration of the largest solar plant in the world built in the eastern region of the Sahara Desert. The plant is set to produce between 1.6 and 2.0 GW of solar power by mid-2019.

The Benban solar park is set to generate the equivalent of 90 percent of the energy produced by Aswan’s High Dam.

Already home to the most important electricity production plant in Egypt, Aswan is set to bear and implement Egypt’s dream of having 20 percent clean energy by 2022.