Renewables could meet 22% of Africa’s energy needs by 2030, PV capacity to reach 55 GW

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA) around 600 million people are still without access to electricity in Africa. However, the continent’s economy is growing and, with it, energy demands are increasing. In a new report, Africa 2030: Roadmap for a renewable energy future, IRENA calculates that 50% more energy will be needed in 2030, compared to today, while electricity needs may triple.

While current energy needs are met via traditional biomass (which is said to account for around half of energy supply), and fossil fuels (coal and natural gas, around 14% each, and oil, around 22%), IRENA states there are huge opportunities available for renewables to step up to the energy demand challenge, particularly in light of Africa’s abundant natural resources, combined with decreasing technology costs, and record low electricity prices for solar and wind.

Solar’s share

Up from just 127 MW in 2009, solar PV has seen its installed capacity grow to 1.3 GW. According to IRENA, this is projected to grow to 55 GW by 2030, including 24 GW of distributed solar PV. CSP, meanwhile, is set to see a cumulative capacity of 38 GW by 2030. This is somewhat short of the 100 GW REC believes will be installed by 2030, however.

South Africa is blazing the continent’s solar trail, having added nearly 780 MW between 2013 and 2014. Kenya also installed 60 MW in 2014, says the agency. Citing GlobalData, IRENA adds that 14 GW of solar PV projects and 6 GW of CSP projects are in the pipeline, with Canada’s SkyPower holding 7 GW of bilateral agreements for solar projects in in Egypt, Kenya and Nigeria over the next five years.

Regarding costs, IRENA states that LCOE for African solar PV utility projects in 2013 and 2014 ranged between US$0.13 and $0.26/kWh, while the lowest cost for utility-scale PV in South Africa is said to be below $0.075/kWh. "This gap between the best practice and cost range in Africa suggests further cost reduction potential," write the report’s authors.

IRENA has outlined 14 actions for Africa to realize its renewables potential. These include: enabling policies and a regulatory framework to catalyse investment; adopting investment promotion measures; and off-grid renewable energy solutions to increase energy access and reduce poverty.

"Africa holds some of the best renewable energy resources in the world in the form of biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar and wind," comments IRENA director-general, Adnan Z. Amin. "This, combined with the precipitous drop of renewable energy technology costs, creates a massive opportunity for African countries to both transform and expand their energy systems while providing a pathway for low-carbon economic growth."

The September issue of pv magazine explored the solar PV opportunities in Sub-Saharan Africa.