Solar Energy Future: An African Case Study

solar energy

For a continent known as the most sun-rich in the world, one would assume solar power dominates the energy production and consumption. But with only 3% of the global consumption of energy, Africa is said to be in an energy crisis.

But all is not lost, with capital investment funds becoming available, solar technology maybe the golden ticket for Africa to break free of its energy crisis, on its way to supplying its near 1.3Billion population with sustainable, reliable electricity.

solar irradianceSolar Irradiance 

With 25% of Africa covered with desert, solar is considered to have the most potential in providing virtually any location in Africa with electricity. Some areas receive up to 2000 kWh/m²/yr of direct sunlight. With almost 70% of Africa’s population concentrated within and around the Sahara, this is huge potential for micro-grids to aid vast communities in becoming less dependent on traditional fuels for power.

Africa is not alone with its impressive direct solar, France can vary between 1,200 kWh/m²/yr in the North to more than 1,700 kWh/m²/yr in the South. The Middle East is also known for its endless sunshine. Between 1999-2011 the average solar irradiation in Saudi Arabia fell between 2000-2450 kWh/m²/yr. The UAE has an average annual solar hour of 3568, which roughly equates to 9.7 h/day. This corresponds to an average solar insulation of 2289 kWh/m²/yr.

financial easeFinancial Ease 

A major roadblock slowing down the rate of solar projects is money. A lack of government funding and few foreign investors overwhelm any prospective project. The World Bank has provided more than $5Billion to around 70 projects across 35 countries for renewable energy projects. Other initiatives from across the world are also providing large sums of money to aid Africa into the 'Electric Age', including £100Million from the UK government which was announced at the COP24 in Poland. The results of these investments are beginning to show. Clean energy investment across sub-Saharan Africa has nearly doubled between 2014-2015 totaling $5.2Billion. Data from the International Renewable Energy Agency indicate that Africa’s total solar PV installed capacity has increased from 500MW in 2013 to nearly 2100MW by the end of 2015, with South Africa taking the helm. Developments such as the 160MW Noor I project in Morocco and the large solar photovoltaic projects in South Africa have attracted significant commercial debt and equity investment. Other factors for increased financial ease include:

  • Economies of scale
  • Competitiveness of other markets leading developers to begin to look at African opportunities
  • Rapid drop in price of solar PV panels
  • Focus on improving regulatory and policy frameworks in Africa using supportive mechanisms such as auctions and national feed-in tariffs

technological innovationTechnological Innovation 

Since its first conception in the mid 1800’s, the ability to convert solar energy into electricity has captivated technology enthusiasts to create cheaper and more efficient ways of harnessing the power of our nearest star.

The 1990’s saw the introduction to the World Bank PV Program dedicated to providing electricity for those who cannot be connected to the grid. Expensive and dangerous kerosene lamps were replaced with PV-powered solar lanterns and Solar Home Systems were introduced to provide electricity for radio, television sets and lights. Unfortunately, it was a bumpy start, particularly in Kenya. Manufacturers attempted to lure customers with cheap PV products. These cheaper products were the result of cost cutting when manufacturers chose not to use the solar cells made on silicon wafers but manufactured a new type of solar cell using a thin film of silicon. The World Bank quickly caught wind of the situation and adjustments were made to the program making sure only quality-wise approved solar lanterns and Small Home Systems were approved to buy. Now the market is brimming with different technologies from Concentrated Thermal Solar Power Systems to Hybrid Solar Systems, even Pay-As-You-Go initiatives, making the idea of solar possible for many different communities.

A recent Forbes article demonstrates one companies particular interest in Africa for its latest solar technology.

community developmentCommunity Development 

New technology brings along with it, the potential for new employment opportunities. A previous decline in the share of manufacturing has started to spring back since 2009, linked to Africa’s economic growth in recent years. A potential contributor to that could be the 21 module factories currently operating with several African countries, producing 900MW per annum. An increase in competition has driven down prices, making solar affordable, however, this has driven margins in manufacturing to become razor-thin. Manufacturers can only survive if their cost structure matches or surpasses their competitors. Size matters, governments should therefore ensure policy measures are put in place before stimulating new manufacturing capacity, if they wish to be a contender in the market. To unlock the maximum job opportunities, governments should focus their attention on the manufacturing of support structures, inverters, cables, junction boxes, and batteries to support local employment.

future of solar energyFuture of Solar Energy 

With an energy source as abundant as the sun, and a growing need to supply carbon neutral, as well as reliable electricity to all, it comes to no surprise that countries within Africa are developing solar technologies for their people. Increased financial incentives and a more demanding and competitive manufacturing environment are among the few encouragements bolstered by its impressive solar insulation.

This article showcases Africa as a prime example of where solar is now, and where it will be. The Sun Is Rising in Africa and the Middle East and the other books listed below showcase the latest in-depth research, written by pioneering authors in the field, giving you a plethora of information to make informed decisions about your energy future. 

Essential books on Solar

  • The Triumph of the Sun in 2000–2020

    How Solar Energy Conquered the World, 1st Edition

    By Wolfgang Palz

    Dramatic forest fires in California, flooding in Mozambique, unusual heat waves in Europe, hurricanes of strength never seen before—the world’s climate is getting out of control. The list of human casualties and damage in billions of euros and dollars is getting longer day by day. Weather experts…

    Hardback – 2019-10-10
    Jenny Stanford Publishing
    Jenny Stanford Series on Renewable Energy

  • Solar Power and Energy Storage Systems

    1st Edition

    By Hee-Je Kim

    Extensive study of solar energy is increasing as fast as the threat of global warming is getting serious. Solar energy is considered the best source of renewable energy because it is clean and unlimited. Solar radiation can be harnessed and converted into different forms of energy that does not…

    Hardback – 2019-02-25
    Jenny Stanford Publishing

  • Battery Energy Storage Systems with Grid-connected Solar Photovoltaics

    A Technical Guide (BR 514), 1st Edition

    By Martin Cotterell, Chris Coonick, Steve Pester, Jonny Williams

    This guide covers battery energy storage systems for domestic or small commercial grid-connected solar photovoltaics (PV). It is intended for two audiences:-Customers. Information is provided to enable the benefits of energy storage systems to be assessed. The pros and cons of different system…

    Paperback – 2018-08-16
    IHS BRE Press

  • The Triumph of the Sun

    The Energy of the New Century, 1st Edition

    By Wolfgang Palz

    As the new century came, the world began to turn its back on the reckless developments of the past that resulted in global pollution and the deep misery it entails, a climate getting out of kilter, the threat of a nuclear war, and all perils brought about by the unchecked use of fossil and atomic…

    Hardback – 2018-08-13
    Jenny Stanford Publishing
    Jenny Stanford Series on Renewable Energy

  • The Sun Is Rising in Africa and the Middle East

    On the Road to a Solar Energy Future, 1st Edition

    By Peter F. Varadi, Frank Wouters, Allan R. Hoffman

    Both Africa and the Middle East are blessed with enormous solar energy resources. Electrification is an urgent need in Africa, where many of its 54 countries are among the world’s fastest-growing economies, but where half the population still has no access to electricity. Solar energy is seen as…

    Paperback – 2018-03-26
    Jenny Stanford Publishing
    Jenny Stanford Series on Renewable Energy

  • The Physics of Solar Cells

    Perovskites, Organics, and Photovoltaic Fundamentals, 1st Edition

    By Juan Bisquert

    The book provides an explanation of the operation of photovoltaic devices from a broad perspective that embraces a variety of materials concepts, from nanostructured and highly disordered organic materials, to highly efficient devices such as the lead halide perovskite solar cells. The book…

    Hardback – 2017-11-16
    CRC Press

  • Passive Solar Architecture Pocket Reference

    1st Edition

    By David Thorpe

    This handy pocket reference contains a wealth of information on a range of topics including the principles of passive solar building and passive house, a ten-step design and build strategy, calculating solar irradiance, factors affecting the choice of building materials, passive heating and cooling…

    Paperback – 2017-11-10
    Energy Pocket Reference

  • Solar Energy Pocket Reference

    1st Edition

    By David Thorpe

    This handy pocket reference provides a wealth of practical information relating to solar energy and solar energy technologies. Topics covered include solar radiation and its detailed measurement, the emissivity and absorption properties of materials, solar thermal energy collection and storage,…

    Paperback – 2017-11-10
    Energy Pocket Reference

  • Sun Towards High Noon

    Solar Power Transforming Our Energy Future, 1st Edition

    By Peter F. Varadi

    The meteoric expansion of the solar (PV) industry resulted from an incredible reduction in the prices of PV systems—first described in the author’s earlier book Sun above the Horizon. It began early in the new century and continued in the following decade with an extraordinary upswing. As a result,…

    Paperback – 2017-03-27
    Jenny Stanford Publishing
    Jenny Stanford Series on Renewable Energy

  • Photovoltaic Systems Engineering

    4th Edition

    By Roger A. Messenger, Amir Abtahi

    The primary purpose of PV Systems Engineering is to provide a comprehensive set of PV knowledge and understanding tools for the design, installation, commissioning, inspection, and operation of PV systems. During recent years in the United States, more PV capacity was installed than any other…

    Hardback – 2017-03-07
    CRC Press

  • Solar Farms

    The Earthscan Expert Guide to Design and Construction of Utility-scale Photovoltaic Systems, 1st Edition

    By Susan Neill, Geoff Stapleton, Christopher Martell

    The market and policy impetus to install increasingly utility-scale solar systems, or solar farms (sometimes known as solar parks or ranches), has seen products and applications develop ahead of the collective industry knowledge and experience. Recently however, the market has matured and…

    Hardback – 2017-02-28
    Earthscan Expert

  • Building-Integrated Solar Energy Systems

    1st Edition

    By Robert E. Parkin

    This book presents techniques for building and optimizing structures with integrated solar energy systems. It describes active solar systems such as photovoltaics and parabolic concentrators as well as passive solar systems and covers optimal materials to use, daylighting, shading, solar blinds,…

    Hardback – 2016-12-29
    CRC Press

Download your free chapter

What to find out more?

Welcome to the Renewable Energy hub; here you can find the latest articles and news across a whole range of topics from solar power to intelligent energy.

Find out more