Africa sits on its solution to energy crises
18 September 2013
Renewable energy, which comes from resources that are continually replenished such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves and geothermal heat, could help plug a biting power supply shortage in Africa.
Many countries in the continent are grappling with chronic energy shortages, with 48 sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) countries having a combined installed generation base of only 68 gigawatts, according to the African Development Bank Group. This is roughly equal to the generation capacity of Spain, a country whose population is less than 5 per cent that of SSA.
South Africa, with a population of 50 million people, has almost two-thirds of the total installed power in the continent at approximately 40,000 megawatts. The rest of SSA has roughly 25,000 MW of electricity capacity and over 800 million people. Nigeria, with a population of almost 170 million people, has one of the worst shortages. There is only about 3,000-4,000 MW on the grid. The country relies extensively on diesel-powered generators.
Kenya, like many other countries in Africa, has low levels of access to electricity among its population, with fewer than 30 per cent connected to the national grid. The country's total installed power generation capacity is about 1,600 MW. Of this, 700 MW is from hydropower, which is susceptible to unreliable weather conditions.
The government, through the ministry of Energy and Petroleum, has launched a plan to generate 5,000 MW in four years. If successful, the country will more than triple its electricity capacity. "Renewables, including decentralised [distributed] generation, can play a major role in rectifying the shortage," said Ntlai Mosiah, the director and head of the power and infrastructure advisory department at Standard Bank.
Africa has the potential to become a "gold mine" for renewable energy due to the abundant solar and wind resources that are now hugely sought after by international investors in their quest for clean energy.
"Renewables can compete on cost. Renewables can play a major role in the electrification of sub-Saharan Africa because they can compete with conventional energy sources, particularly away from the limited transmission networks or developed fuel transportation hubs" Mosiah told Business Beat.
Technically, the continent has exploitable capability of 1,888 terawatt-hours per year (TWh/yr) of energy, of which 41 per cent is in the DRC, thanks to the mighty Congo River. Ethiopia, with its highlands, has an exploitable capacity of 260 TWh/yr, Cameroon, 115 TWh/yr and Madagascar, 180 TWh/yr.
"Renewable energy has the ability to change perceptions and shake-off the stigma of Africa being the "dark" continent.
Africa has some of the best solar irradiation globally, with many African countries receiving on average 325 days per year of bright sunlight, distributed fairly evenly," Mosiah said, speaking at the 2013 Standard Bank Africa Forum in South Africa.
Experts say it makes economic sense to implement renewable energy in markets that are reliant on diesel for secure electricity supply. Standard Bank Africa estimates that diesel generation costs users $0.60-0.70 per kilowatt hour (kWh), while solar power would cost about $0.15-0.25 per kWh. Wind would cost approximately $0.10-0.15 per kWh.
"As grid parity is being achieved in some countries, the cost of renewable energy is becoming more competitive than ever before," he said. Africa also has a large coastline, where wind power resources are abundant and underutilised in the north and south. Geothermal power also has potential to provide considerable amounts of energy in many eastern African nations.
Kenya was the first African country to tap the vast reserves of hot steam in the Earth's crust. Its current geothermal potential is estimated at 10,000 MW, but geothermal energy currently contributes 209 MW to the national grid. This accounts for about 22 per cent of the country's production.
Geothermal resources in Kenya are concentrated in the Rift Valley with more than 14 fields extending from Lake Magadi to Lake Turkana. There are also low temperature fields outside the rift at Homa Hills (Nyanza) and Massa Mukwe (Coast Province).
Wind is far less uniformly distributed than solar power, with optimal locations positioned near coastal locations, mountain ranges, and other natural channels in the north and south. The availability of wind on the western coast of Africa is substantial, at times exceeding 11miles/second, and could accommodate future energy demands.
Africa's high potential has seen Asian investors increasingly target the continent's renewable energy projects. These include Japanese trading houses and industrial corporations, Chinese power companies, and wind and solar equipment manufacturers. Investors from Korea and Malaysia are also exploring investment and acquisition opportunities.
But despite African countries' strong renewable energy ambitions, only South Africa and Morocco have introduced fully-fledged independent power producer (IPP) procurement programmes. South Africa intends to bring about 18GW of renewable capacity online by 2020 and has already awarded 2.4 GW of contracts through its procurement programme.
Kenya and Uganda are trying to lure renewable energy projects by offering devel opers attractive contracts. The 300 MW Lake Turkana project is the largest wind project in SSA, and the Kinangop wind farm is another significant project. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, Kenya has the potential to increase capacity to over 3,000 MW. Tanzania is ideally located to implement hydro, wind and solar technologies within its borders, but to date no large-scale commercial project exists.
There are also good wind resources at the region's coast, coupled with vast, open, highly irradiated land. However, the lack of an extensive grid network is a major hindrance to exploitation of these resources.
Several eastern African countries, including Kenya, Ethiopia and Tanzania, are situated along the earth's tectonic plates in the Rift Valley region and close to the Equator, which offers good opportunities for geothermal power.
Original article by Jevans Nyabiage