Nine African nations on track to join solar ‘gigawatt club’

Algeria emerging as the continent's third ‘solar champion’ after South Africa and Egypt  

By Kiran Pandey
Published: Tuesday 23 February 2021

Of the 37 countries that are part of the solar ‘gigawatt club’, only two — South Africa and Egypt — are from Africa. But this might change soon with nine more African countries ramping up solar capacity, said the first annual African Solar Energy Outlook 2021 report released by the Africa Solar Industry Association (AFSIA) on February 16, 2021.

Nations with installed capacity to produce 1 GW of solar power form the ‘gigawatt club’, an unofficial tag.

The nine countries that are developing their solar infrastructure are Algeria, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Namibia, Ethiopia, Morocco and Botswana, the report said.

Nearly half the world’s population without access to electricity (591 million) is in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the International Energy Association. This new report provides policy directions for ensuring development of affordable energy through solar.

It provides a country-by-country snapshot solar generation status and key drivers of successful solar development across 54 nations in the African continent.

Emerging solar champions

Natural gas accounts for 98 per cent of the energy mix in Algeria but the country aims to generate up to 22 gigawatts of green energy by 2030. Of this, 13.6 GW will be solar, according to government sources.

In Zimbabwe, where over 91 per cent people do not have access to electricity, solar will be key to ensuring access to affordable energy.

Private sector will play a major role to in helping Zimbabwe go solar, the report predicts. The sector, which has been struggling with erratic power supply and grid shutdowns for years, is now planning sizable projects to serve their consumption as well as the grid, said the report.

Ethiopia and Botswana are expected to gain from a more traditional approach of international tenders and should reap the benefits of this approach through bottom-low tariffs, according to the report.

On the contrary, the governments in Zambia, DRC and Angola have awarded private developers direct contracts for significant capacities without going through a tender.

Morocco has been appreciated in the report for its transparent and efficient tender and development process over the years.

South Africa and Egypt

The existing solar champs, South Africa and Egypt, will continue their solar journey and add sizable capacities to their grid, according to the report.

South Africa currently has over 2.8 GW of installed solar power capacity. It plans to scale up to 8.28 GW by 2030.

To realize this target, the country plans to generate 1 GW of solar per year in 2023, 2025 and 2028-30, according to its energy department.

Egypt accounts for 23 per cent of the leading solar power projects in the Middle East and North Africa region.

The nation will continue to build on the success of both government-led projects such as Benban solar park and decentralised projects, said AFSIA in the report.

The 1.8 GW Benban solar park developed by state-owned New and Renewable Energy Authority (NREA) at Aswan governorate was named the biggest solar photovoltaic park in the world in October 2019.

Upper hand

Africa’s solar boom is likely to get a boost due to two advantages, said the report.

Many grids in Africa are considered “weak” and have limited capacity to store.  The solar capacity they can absorb at any point across the national infrastructure is limited to 30 MW in most of the cases.

But by coupling solar and storage technologies, this limitation could be overcome and significantly more solar capacity could be added and connected to the grid.

West Africa is leading the charge in such large-scale solar and storage projects

The solar boom is driven by the new and more flexible technologies brought to market along with drastic cost reductions of both solar panels and storage solutions, said John Van Zuylen, CEO, AFSIA.  

Hydrogen is another game changer in the solar future of Africa. The continent is ideally positioned thanks to its excellent irradiation to play a pivotal role in the global solar-based green hydrogen market.

It is very likely that all global energy leaders and solar companies are already eyeing privileged partnerships in Africa’s sunniest regions, the report said. Africa is likely to emerge as a global hub for production and export of green hydrogen.

While large-scale solar projects have dominated the sector over the past few years, the commercial and industrial sector is booming and could represent 30-40 per cent of all solar capacities in the coming years, said AFSIA.

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.