In sub-Saharan Africa, nearly 600 million of the population living in rural areas do not have access to electricity. Faced with this observation, most African states now consider solar energy a priority. The only certainty? The emergence of new solar power plants. Senegal is positioning itself as a major player in this new socio-economic arena with the opening of the two largest West African sites (Bakhol and Malicounda). However, what is the real deal today with the spread of solar energy across the entire African continent?
Solar energy: a source of profitability
So far, there are no viable solutions for storing solar energy. However, its production requires a relatively large space, it takes about 1 hectare for a power of 1 megawatt.
Even so, the use of solar energy remains very profitable. The price of photovoltaic electricity keeps dropping, to the point where its price is now lower than that of wind power.
Indeed, the production of solar electricity costs less than 3 ct € / kWh, against 4.2 ct € to produce 1 kWh of nuclear energy, especially in France.
Africa’s exploitable potential
Solar photovoltaic energy in Africa is a huge potential market. This reality is explained by the possibility of establishing it throughout Africa. Indeed, this continent has an irradiation rate twice that of European countries. Africa is therefore the ideal continent for developing solar energy.
In addition, during the last two years, the price of photovoltaic solar installations has fallen very significantly.
Proven technological mastery associated with rapid implementation
The installation of a solar power plant requires half the time of the installation of a hydraulic power plant. In addition, the current tender system for the creation of solar power plants is helping to accelerate the development of this new energy.
In addition, the quality of the material (solar panels) is becoming more and more efficient, which leads to higher and higher yields over the years.
The rise of residential solar power in Africa
In parallel with major projects related to the installation of photovoltaic energy, more and more local companies, like Solar-Ka in Senegal, are developing. Their goals? Directly offer African citizens the benefit of solar energy.
Thanks to the emergence of new business models, the implementation of solar energy at the local level is becoming more accessible.
Despite everything, the development of solar energy in Africa dates back to 2010. It was in fact that year that the pioneering Kenyan company M-KOPA Solar installed the first 500,000 kits in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. solar panels intended for domestic use.
These kits consisted of mobile phone chargers, radio, television, oven and lamps equipped to run on solar energy.
At that time, M-KOPA implemented a new payment method to allow people interested in purchasing a kit but not having the necessary amount for the installation to pay their monthly installments by mobile.
In 2014, the Akon Lighting Africa initiative set up by artist Akon, Thione Niang and entrepreneur Samba Bathily, aims to electrify all rural areas in Africa using solar energy by 2020 This initiative is based on a public – private partnership and a network of partners including Sumec and Nari in particular. It allowed the installation of solar equipment (street lights, community and residential kits). Now 16 African countries are equipped.
Investing in solar energy: what are the prospects?
Designing, financing and building large solar power plants is a very long process to set up. So far only multinationals venture to invest in this type of infrastructure.
In contrast, more and more Africans are now favoring the “off-grid” option to install solar power locally and nationally. Hence the interest in turning to this form of investment which represents a potential market of 600 million people across the African continent. Indeed, so far 3% of investments dedicated to climate actions concern solar energy.
Nonetheless, investment projects must be viable and replicable. For example, this could be a project set up in Botswana by the company BPC Lesedi which aims to offer solar kits as a service, so customers do not own the solar panels. These kits are then distributed by franchisees.
However, there is the problem of residential photovoltaic systems. These currently operate using lead-acid batteries with a lifespan of no more than 3 years. In addition, in terms of performance, these are inferior to lithium-ion batteries. Unfortunately, the cost of these batteries is a real drag for investors.
To develop the competitiveness of solar systems, it is essential to lower the price of these batteries.
The solar energy boom has started in Africa. The adopted development model operates mainly on the decentralized local production model. Nonetheless, the threat of two-tier solar access (urban and rural) looms. It is therefore essential that all African countries ensure the sharing of good practices to reach global solutions concerning the installation of solar energy in Africa.