Strategic siting can boost solar development in Africa, says Berkeley Lab

Solar and wind will be able to gain more market share in the African energy economy only if strategic siting and international interconnections are considered by governments.

These are the main conclusions of the report “Strategic siting and regional grid interconnections key to low-carbon futures in African countries”, which was released by the US Department of Energy’s Berkeley Lab.

The study, which assesses the potential of solar and wind in 21 countries which belong to the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP) or the Eastern Africa Power Pool (EAPP), was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
The authors of the report have based their evaluations on the Multicriteria Analysis for Planning Renewable Energy (MapRE, at mapre.lbl.gov) developed at Berkeley Lab in collaboration with International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), which provided the initial funding for the research.

The Berkeley Lab experts have also relied on criteria such as quality of the resource, distance from transmission lines and roads, co-location potential, availability of water resources and potential human impact.

The scientists claim that a more robust energy trade alongside improved grid connections would boost the development of wind and solar projects across African countries, and would help to reduce the cost of power. “It makes economic sense. Through planning around multiple stakeholder criteria and prioritizing wind and solar projects for regional energy trade, policymakers and financiers can increase their cost-competitiveness,” said Berkeley Lab expert Ranjit Deshmukh.

Multicriteria site selection and deliberate planning of interconnections are considered as the best tool to make renewables cost-competitive with conventional power resources in Africa. Multicriteria resource mapping, the authors of the report stress, can minimize risk by enabling strategic site selection.

The report also highlights that the EAPP and SAPP are currently considering new international interconnections to exchange future conventional and hydroelectric generation and that the interconnections for renewables are substantially different.

The study also finds that Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Lesotho can meet 30% of their projected 2030 demand with low-impact solar PV, while Ethiopia, Sudan, Uganda, and Tanzania can most favorably achieve 30% solar PV generation targets domestically. Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia, Angola, South Africa, Egypt, Kenya, and Libya, however, have some cost-effective sites that should receive high prioritization, but are not in the top 20% primarily due to limited transmission access.