African solar set to shine as prices fall

Costs have come down to $1.30 per watt for large-scale projects and $1.90 per watt for off-grid systems, fresh research shows.

A continued slide in the cost of generating large-scale and off-grid solar in Africa has made the clean energy source the cheapest way to meet the continent’s electricity needs, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

The intergovernmental organsation supporting renewable energy development recently published a report, Solar PV in Africa: Costs and Markets, citing solar as one of the most cost-competitive ways to provide the continent with electricity.

Falling costs could start a solar boom in Africa, the report said, as prices fall to $1.30 per watt for large-scale projects and $1.90 per watt for mini-grids. The average global cost of large-scale solar is $1.80 per watt.

Overall, the price of solar in Africa has fallen by 61 percent since 2012, and IRENA says additional declines of up to 59 percent are possible in the next 10 years.

Mini-grid systems have also dropped in price and are below heavier polluting sources such as diesel and kerosene. Residential solar systems cost off-grid households in Africa $56 per year to meet annual electricity needs. According to the United Nations Environmental Programme, kerosene cost $71 per average African household in 2015. Africa could be a 70GW market for off-grid solar systems by 2030, the report predicted.

“These cost reductions, coupled with vast solar potential on the continent, present a huge opportunity for Africa,” IRENA director-general Adnan Amin said. “Both grid-connected and off-grid solar PV now offer a cost-competitive means to meet rising energy needs and bring electricity to the 600 million Africans who currently lack access.”

IRENA’s report was published as other news broke in African clean energy. Mainstream Renewable Power said its joint venture Lekela Power had agreed with the Overseas Private Investment Corporation to develop a 158MW wind farm in Senegal. 

Power Africa, a White House initiative created to catalise third-party investment into African energy, said it has received $1 billion in fresh commitments toward several projects. One of the projects Power Africa is supporting is a $220 million, 100MW solar farm in Nigeria, which is also backed by Nigeria Solar Capital Partners, Globeleq Africa and the ARM-Harith Infrastructure Fund.

“Africa’s solar potential is enormous, with solar irradiation levels up to 117 per cent higher than in Germany – the country with the highest installed solar power capacity,” Amin said. “It has never been more possible, and less expensive for Africa to realise this potential.”