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IRENA Claims Solar In Africa Is Set To Boom Thanks To Declining Costs

The International Renewable Energy Agency has published a new report claiming that the falling technology costs of solar PV are likely to result in an installation boom across Africa.

“The business case for solar photovoltaics (PV) in Africa is stronger than ever thanks to rapidly declining technology costs” wrote the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) in their new report, published this week, entitled Solar PV in Africa: Costs and Markets. Specifically, the report’s authors estimate that the installed costs for power generated by utility-scale solar PV in Africa have decreased by as much as 61% since 2012, and today’s installed costs are as low as $1.30 per watt in Africa, compared to the global average of $1.80 per watt.

Operating and proposed utility-scale solar PV project installed costs in Africa, 2011-2018


“In recent years, solar PV costs have dropped dramatically and will continue to do so with further declines of up to 59 per cent possible in the next ten years,” said IRENA Director-General Adnan Z. Amin. “These cost reductions, coupled with vast solar potential on the continent, present a huge opportunity for Africa. Both grid-connected and off-grid solar PV now offer a cost-competitive means to meet rising energy needs and bring electricity to the 600 million Africans who currently lack access.”

The global solar revolution had mostly bypassed Africa, focusing on industrialised countries first and foremost, before beginning to sweep across Asia. However, given that Africa has solar irradiation levels 52% to 117% higher than in Germany, and a burgeoning and desperate need for electricity made available to those living beyond traditional electricity grid infrastructure, solar capacity expansion has begun ramping up in Africa. Specifically, new capacity expansion in Africa surpassed 800 MW in 2014, and then reached 750 MW in 2015.

Africa’s total cumulative installed capacity of solar PV, 2000-2015


The International Renewable Energy Agency predicts that, by 2030, Africa could have as much as 70 GW of solar PV capacity.

“Africa’s solar potential is enormous, with solar irradiation levels up to 117 per cent higher than in Germany – the country with the highest installed solar power capacity,” said Mr. Amin. “It has never been more possible, and less expensive for Africa to realise this potential.”

A significant aspect to the potential for solar PV in Africa is the way in which it can reach rural and underdeveloped communities. Millions in Africa are without access to clean and reliable energy, relying instead on unreliable traditional utility electricity, fossil fuel burning electricity, or simply nothing at all. Solar PV, on the other hand, does not need to rely on any existing (or lack of existing) infrastructure, and is a highly module solution, suiting both on-grid and off-grid situations. Numerous private companies are already attempting to fill this niche, with global solar solutions leader d.light this week announcing $22.5 million in financing to expand its operations around the world.

The report also highlights the speed with which solar can go from idea to implemented, with the shortest lead time of any power generation technology currently available. This makes solar’s value on a continent so desperate for electricity even higher.

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