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Africa’s new power: sun and wind

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Maasai-Green-Energy-Africa-solar-1-537x400

The Maasai Green Energy Africa project

It’s easy to dismiss Africa as a hopeless basket case, forever mired in corruption, civil wars, or failed states. But that does do justice to the continent where a number of very encouraging news on the renewable energy news have surfaced recently.

For instance, there are remarkable programs to bring solar electricity to rural areas. A Green Energy Africa project is bringing solar installations in rural homes in Kenya (2000 installations in Naiputa county alone) and empowers Maasai women into running small business selling these systems. And the hip-hop artist Akon was in the news recently with an ambitious proposal to fund and develop solar power and expertise. Akon Lighting Africa is located in Mali, with supply of sunshine 320 days a year. The project includes an academy where locals can develop expertise to produce solar power by themselves.

African countries are also leading in pledges for the upcoming climate talks in Paris: for instance, Morocco has pledged the complete elimination of fossil fuel subsidies (picking agood time to do it when oil prices are low); Ethiopia plans to reduce its carbon emissions by 64%, through use of simple technologies such as efficient wood stoves as well as through reforestation (some countries take the issue of climate change seriously…I hope Canada joins the club some day!).

But the large scale projects may be the most spectacular. The IEA forecasts that 45% of the future energy production in sub-Saharan Africa will come from renewables. For instance, Dubai-based Access Intra Africa plans to launch the largest privately owned solar plant in Uganda this year. The company has similar plans for Ghana, Mozambique, and 15 other African countries. The Uganda plant is slated to develop 10 MW, and the company’s portfolio is slated for one full GW. Said company chairman Reda Al-Chaar:

Solar power is no longer an exotic power solution, it’s becoming a real contender in any (power) generation mix. As far as power technology is concerned, solar power has made the biggest leap in the cost efficiencies in recent years.

In Kenya, Google is investing $700 million in the Turkana wind power project, a 310 MW facility that will increase Kenya’s generation capacity by 20%.

South Africa’s new renewable energy procurement program is also producing interesting results: US-based SunEdison has announced a winning bid for 371 MW worth of solar projects, while Germany’s Juwi has started construction on an 86 MW plant.

south africa wind

A wind farm in South Africa

This is great news for South Africa, a country currently plagued with rotating black-outs because of insufficient power generation. But what is most remarkable is how solar and wind are outperforming coal, despite rich reserves of the mineral in the country. According to The Guardian, wind projects are now completed at a cost of 0.05$/MWh, about half the cost of new coal. Even more telling, Medupi, a new, state-of-the-art dry cooled 4700MW coal plant, started last year, has been plagued with problems and construction delays. During that time, the country added 4300 MW of wind power already feeding the grid.

The end may be nigh for coal-produced electricity, and it would make sense for it to happen first in sun and wind rich Africa. But the prospect of Africa quickly developing technical expertise and manufacturing capacity based on sun and wind power is even more exciting.

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Written by enviropaul

June 14, 2015 at 11:39 am

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