Solar power poised to go big-time in Africa

A recent article from CNN news shines a light on the solar boom is currently underway in Africa. In particular, the country of South Africa now boasts the highest renewable energy investment growth rate anywhere in the world (according to the UN Environment Program)–and most of that investment is going towards large-scale solar power. The main reason that this transformation is underway in South Africa is the motivation to move away from coal (the burning of which generates 86% of the country’s electricity), but sinking solar power price points are making it easier for the country to bring in private sector investment as well.

Considering how quickly solar PV has grown into an institution in Australia, it is not surprising to hear about global successes elsewhere in the world, with South African the case in point here. Although Germany and Europe led (and still lead) the way on solar energy uptake, a wave of enthusiasm and investment is now sweeping across the planet. The rise of the affordability of solar PV technology has been possible, of course, thanks to global trends. Two of the most important of these trends are the increasing government support for action on climate change (South Africa, for example, has a target of 30 gigawatts of solar capacity by 2030), plus a massive increase in solar panel manufacturing (primarily in China). Solar panels are now cheaper and more prolific than ever. (See recent solar panel prices for Australia!)

With huge global players investing in solar projects there, South Africa’s clean energy story is an inspiring one. Google, for example, announced in May that it would invest over $1b in a 96 megawatt (MW) solar plant–the Jasper Power Project. Even so, it’s not the only country on the continent where such developments are taking place. Thanks to high levels of solar irradiation (4-6 kilowatt-hours per m2, compared to 3.5-4.5 in most parts of Australia), countries like Mauritania (with its massive Desertec project), Ghana, and Morocco are all looking towards the future and building large-scale plants.

Top image by Clement Tardif, via CNN

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James Martin II