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Opinion: African Grid Operators That Don’t Open Up to Solar Risk Being Left Behind

African grid operators that don’t put solar power onto their systems risk being bypassed as prices for solar production and storage continue to fall, John van Zuylen, CEO of the Africa Solar Industry Association, tells The Africa Report.
 
There are already many places where solar energy is the cheapest option says Van Zuylen, who is based in Kigali. That means the prospect of “a significant uptake of solar in the African energy mix, grid-connected but probably mostly off-grid. By rejecting solar, the national utilities may create themselves a new problem: losing their reliable customers.” Less than 1% of the world’s solar capacity is in Africa.
 
According to the Institut Montaigne in Paris, sub-Saharan Africa is the world’s only region where demographic growth since 2000 has been faster than the speed at which populations are being given access to electricity.
  • Only around 10 solar power plants of more than 5MW have been connected to the grid in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa, excluding South Africa, the Institut says.
  • Africa has been largely absent from the global solar power plant deployment, which constitutes a “collective failure”, the Institut argues.
  • It’s only going to get worse if nothing is done: in 2040, almost 95% of the world’s population without access to electricity will be in sub-Saharan Africa, the Institut says.
Many African national grids are in poor condition and cannot absorb more than 20-30MW in a single location, limiting opportunities, Van Zuylen says.
  • For grids that don’t have these technical constraints, questions about risk-sharing, government guarantees and bankable off-take agreements have significantly limited the number of projects coming to fruition, he adds.
  • Meanwhile, solar home systems and mini-grids still require heavy subsidies to provide electricity at affordable prices for rural populations, which are often the ones with the lowest available income.

Urban subsidies

National grids are best placed to do something about it. According to a global outlook for solar power to 2024 published by SolarPower Europe in June, African utilities with access to an urban customer base may be able to finance connections for poorer rural households by subsidising them with revenue collected in cities.
  • Projects situated near these urban centres are more bankable due to economies of scale, the possibility of future capacity expansions and a lower risk of under-utilisation, SolarPower Europe says.
Some countries are becoming supportive of solar. Van Zuylen points to the example of Senegal, which this month removed VAT on all solar products, including water pumping systems.
  • The decision is part of a strategy that seeks to achieve universal access to electricity in Senegal by 2025.
  • Institut Montaigne says that of the 10 plants connected to sub-Saharan grids, four are in Senegal.
The best thing to do for grid operators is to “guide and accompany a smooth integration of solar in their grids,” Van Zuylen says. “If they do not do so, it could very well be that more and more customers will gradually disconnect from the grid completely as solar plus storage is not only reliable but also increasingly cost-competitive.”

The Bottom Line

Foot-dragging national grids risk being left behind as falling prices for solar and storage equipment have the potential to be a game-changer.

For information as to how Relocation Africa can help you with your Mobility, Immigration, Research, Remuneration, and Expat Tax needs, email info@relocationafrica.com, or call us on +27 21 763 4240.

Sources: [1], [2]. Image sources: [1], [2].

Greenpeace States Eskom Should Get Rid of Coal Power Stations

A recently published study by Greenpeace Africa has urged Eskom to start phasing out its coal power stations and open IPP auctions for renewable energies.

A study commissioned by Greenpeace Africa titled ‘Eskom: A road-map to powering the future‘ has recommended that the struggling power utility get rid of its coal power stations.

With reports that Eskom’s debt will reach a quite staggering R500 billion, the future of the state-owned company looks increasingly uncertain.

Eskom relies on coal due to the local market producing it relatively cheaply and the significant infrastructure geared towards coal power.

Greenpeace Africa’s senior political adviser Happy Khambule said: “Fundamental reforms of the South African electricity sector and Eskom’s business model are inevitable and urgent.

“This report presents a road-map with solid options for the country’s electricity supply industry crisis, outlines a realistic and sustainable future for Eskom, and ensures that all crucial functions of the South African electricity system improve.”

The negative environmental impact of coal power stations and doubts over its long-term viability as a power source led Prof. Dr. Uwe Leprich, the author of the study, to conclude Eskom needs to start phasing it out.

Key recommendations for Eskom reform include:

  • The gradual phase-out of coal-fired power generation from Eskom to new generation companies (GenCos)
  • The refinancing of Eskom through the decommissioning of coal-fired power stations older than 40 years, and the sale of all remaining coal-fired power plants
  • The retention by Eskom of the important role of the transmission system operator with the possibility of operating its own grid-supporting (non-coal) power plants
  • The opening of the IPP auctions for renewable energies to Eskom as well in order to make it a significant part of the utility’s business model
  • The possibility for Eskom to participate in the newly created six regional electricity distributors
  • The opportunity for Eskom to create new services for end-use customers on the basis of the digitization revolution that is evolving all over the world

To read the full study, click here.

Government sued for air pollution

The recommendation comes in the wake of environmental justice group groundWork and Mpumalanga community organisation Vukani Environmental Justice Movement in Action taking the South African government to the Pretoria High Court over a perceived violation of citizens’ constitutional right to clean air.

“Living in Witbank, one of the most polluted areas in the country, has hugely affected our health and lives,” says Vusi Mabaso, Chairperson of Vukani.

“Both government and industry have continuously failed to deal with the problem, irrespective of our efforts to engage with them to ensure they take steps to protect human health.

“Together with groundWork, Vukani has decided to use litigation to push government to take urgent steps to deal with the high air pollution and in the interest of our health and to protect our right to clean air.”

 

For information as to how Relocation Africa can help you with your Mobility, Immigration, Research, Remuneration, and Expat Tax needs, email marketing@relocationafrica.com, or call us on +27 21 763 4240.

Sources: [1], [2]. Image sources: Dominik Vanyi [1], [2].