A “solar revolution” is coming to Africa, comparable in scale and importance to the rapid surge in mobile phone use on the continent two decades ago, predicts the head of the International Renewable Energy Agency.
Fast-dropping costs for solar power, combined with plenty of sun and a huge need for electricity on a continent where many are still without it, means solar has huge potential in Africa, Irena director general Adnan Amin said.
“Africa’s solar potential is enormous,” he said in an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The continent gets 117 per cent more sunshine than Germany, which today has the highest installed solar power capacity,” he said.
“It has never been more possible and less expensive for Africa to realise this potential.”
Amin, who was born in Nairobi, added that both grid-connected solar power and off-grid solar energy now offer “cost-competitive means to meet rising energy needs and bring electricity to the 600 million Africans who currently lack access”.
Innovations, including better transmission and storage for solar power, and new payment systems, also mean using more solar power in Africa could boost economies and create jobs for millions of people across the continent, he said.
“Africa’s vast solar potential presents a huge opportunity for people to engage in economic activities such as irrigation and agro-processing, and it is already beginning to happen,” Amin said.
Solar can have high upfront costs compared to traditional fuels, but technological and financing advances, such as pay-as-you-go solar with payments made by mobile phone, are helping deal with that problem, he said.
Even the higher initial costs are coming down, he said, with solar panel prices expected to continue falling.
The price of producing power from solar mini-grids (installations unconnected to larger national grid systems) is expected to fall by at least 60 per cent in two decades.
“The rapid rise of pay-as-you-go solar home systems and integration with mobile payment technology is an example of the speed of innovation that is taking place.
In East Africa alone, more than 450,000 such systems have been deployed,” he said.
Irena estimates that up to 60 million Africans already may be using off-grid renewable electricity of some kind.