Solar activity heats up in Africa

With a growing demand for electricity, many living in poverty and an "urgent" need to build an appropriate energy sector, plans to improve access to electricity across the African continent abound, particularly in the off-grid sector. Larger-scale projects are also a focus, however.

Indeed, Indian EPC company, Sterling and Wilson recently unveiled its plans to install 500 MW in Africa. A spokesperson for the company told pv magazine projects will be deployed across Kenya, Zambia, Mozambique, Algeria, Tanzania, Namibia and Morocco over the next three years. Sizes will range from 5 to 40 MW, they said, adding, "Some projects are in advance stage of development and for some we have pre-bid tie ups."

While they would not divulge the amount being invested, they said Sterling and Wilson is working directly with IPPs and mining companies, while various potential customers and /or partners are said to be interested in collaboration. "Many of such customers are based out in Middle East/ France & UK," said the spokesperson.

Sterling and Wilson is currently working on 200 MW of solar projects in South Africa and Egypt, and has offices in South Africa, Egypt, Nigeria and Kenya. It also has a solar pipeline totaling 1.5 GW in India.

Commenting on its reasons for focusing on the African market, the spokesperson said, "Solar power remains one of Africa’s most abundant but scarcely used resources. Africa’s huge solar resource, growing energy demands and high unemployment make it an ideal market for solar energy. With favorable irradiation levels, rising populations, a lack of stable electricity supply and high fossil fuel prices, the market for solar is ripe on the continent."

$100 million commitment

In related African news, US$50 million has been committed to improving access to electricity in Rwanda and Uganda, respectively. The Climate Investment Funds (CIF) endorsed both countries’ investment plan to install more renewable energy at its governing body meetings, held last week. The plan will be implemented with support from both the World Bank and African Development Bank (AfDB).

Rwanda aims to increase access to electricity to 70% by 2018 by grid-connecting 48% of households and offering 22% off-grid solutions in the form of solar home systems and mini-grid connections, via a Renewable Energy Fund (REF) established by the government.

"In particular, the plan aims to unleash the potential of the private sector by facilitating private investment through a range of potential financing instruments. These may include equity and debt, credit enhancement instruments, consumer finance, as well as grants and results-based-financing (RBF) to cover viability gap financing and improving affordability of off-grid energy services," said the AfDB in a statement released.

Through its investment plan, meanwhile, Uganda intends to focus on solar PV off-grid rural electrification and grid net metering, in addition to geothermal and wind projects. It will receive support from a number of partners, including the AfDB and the International Finance Corporation (IFC).

Overall, Uganda is said to have one of the lowest access rates to electricity in Africa, at 17%. The country aims to increase this to 40% by 2040. "Particularly for remote and isolated areas, where connectivity to the main grid is too expensive, off-grid and mini-grid systems will be an important part of the solution," said the AfDB in a separate statement.


Ahead of his visit to Ghana, Minister of State at the UK Department for International Development, Grant Shapps said the time to invest in solar is "now." He cited high electricity prices and expensive power outages, in addition to falling solar prices and technology improvements, as strong reasons to support renewable energy deployment.

"The spread of mobile payment systems means people can pay for electricity on a micro pay-as-you-go basis, for less than they already spend on kerosene. This in turn means a market can be converted to deliver large scale off-grid domestic solar power," he added in a statement released by the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office.

If the world is to meet its target of universal access to energy, he continued, off-grid solutions need to be harnessed. "The grid will only ever provide 40% of Africa’s energy needs. So we have to look elsewhere too," he stated. Cutting red tape and reducing bureaucratic barriers will be imperative to improving energy access, as will the establishment of appropriate finance options.

At the end of September, Shapps told a delegation of African leaders at the UN General Assembly that solar PV’s capacity to transform the energy landscape of sub-Saharan Africa would be supported at every step by the U.K.

Meanwhile, a recent report highlighted a growing market for off-grid solar products, with $300 million being reaped annually. Sales in Africa are said to be particularly strong.