Solar, wind have major potential in Africa

Renewable energy could be a cost-effective solution for Africa’s energy demands, according to a study from the US energy department’s Berkeley Lab. Wind and solar are cheaper than hydropower or fossil fuels in many areas across the continent. The key lies in strategic siting.

African countries will require up to triple the amount of energy by 2030 to meet their skyrocketing demand for electricity. A new assessment by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has found that wind and solar are economically and environmentally competitive to hydropower and fossil fuel power plants across the continent.

Researchers from Berkeley Lab looked at 21 countries from the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP) and the Eastern Africa Power Pool (EAPP), which accounts for around half the continent’s population.

They found that countries in southern Africa as well as Ethiopia have wind and solar potential several times greater than their expected demand in 2030, as is seen in Berkeley Lab’s MapRE tool. Sudan and Libya have considerable potential for solar energy, whereas wind power is especially favourable along Libya’s coastal region.

The total system costs can be lower if countries were to develop the renewable energy resources at strategic sites and with more energy trade and grid interconnections between countries, said Ranjit Deshmukh, one of the lead researchers of the study. And if wind farms are strategically sited so as to manage peak demand, costs can be lower still.

“System costs can be further reduced if wind farms are sited where the timing of wind generation matches electricity demand rather than in areas that maximise wind energy production,” said co-researcher Grace Wu.

For example, the researchers found that Southern Africa could reduce the need for conventional generation capacity by 9.5 per cent if wind farms are sited to match existing infrastructure and manage peak demand.

Their findings fly in the face of conventional approaches in which project developers usually choose the site with the lowest levelised cost and best wind speeds.

“Just based purely on economics today wind and solar are attractive,” Deshmukh said. “It makes economic sense.”

The researchers have already uploaded data into the MapRE tool for India and plan to add more countries, most likely in Asia.

Image credit: Grace Wu/Berkeley Lab

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