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Making solar more attractive to Africa
November 26, 2017, 2:14 pm

Delivering power efficiently from where it is generated to where it is needed is a major obstacle to Africa's plans for universal electrification. As the least densely populated continent in the world, with less than 42 inhabitants per square kilometer, Africa presents a unique challenge when it comes to investing in nation-wide electricity grid infrastructure and other centralized forms of power transmission.

For the bulk of Africa’s population connection to a national grid will remain a pipedream for the foreseeable future. It is estimated that the entire African continent has fewer kilometers of power transmission lines than the country of Brazil.

But this formidable challenge to universal electrification could be overcome by shifting to a pattern of generating electricity where it is needed using mini-grids. Mini-grids or micro-grids are a set of isolated electricity generation and storage systems interconnected to a distribution network that supplies electricity to a localized group of customers. Mini-grids often involve small-scale electricity generation in the range of10 kW to 10MW.

Just as it leap-frogged telephone landlines and adopted mobile phones, the continent could leap-frog the cost-intensive, often inefficient national electricity grid by prioritizing mini-grid power generation.

With many in Africa barely being able to afford the price for electricity from the national grid, a primary concern when it comes to mini-grid solar power generation is the cost. However, with prices for solar panels falling by 80 percent between 2008 and 2014, and that for lithium ion batteries falling by a similar percentage in the last six years, solar power is increasingly becoming a viable option for far-flung communities in Africa.

In addition to cost for consumers, three other challenges have been identified for mini- grid developers. These include lack of easy access to subsidized funding and long-term financing options, as well as the dearth of accurate and reliable forecasts on country grid extension plans. Without access to grid extension plans, mini-grid developers are unable to select sites that have low potential for connection to the national grid.  Addressing these three challenges are expected to help push mini-grid contributions to the plan for universal electrification in Africa.



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