Eco Innovation

Africa shines bright in the solar power marketplace

29th November 2023
Harry Fowle

Africa is the only region in the world where conditions for solar power exceed typical “excellent” benchmarks, discovers Caroline Hayes.

This article originally appeared in the Oct'23 magazine issue of Electronic Specifier Design – see ES's Magazine Archives for more featured publications.

The worldwide solar power market is projected to grow from $234.86 billion to $373.84 billion by 2029, at a CAGR of 6.9% in that period. Often developing nations do not have access to new and emerging technologies but this is not the case with solar energy and photovoltaic (PV) panels.

Between 2019 and 2020, solar capacity increased by 13% in Africa, where 9% of all energy generated comes from renewable sources. The region relies heavily on fossil fuels today, but energy multi-national, BP has said that by 2050, approximately 30% of the continent’s energy production will be from solar power. Solar panel technology is the cheapest of all renewable energies, at $995/kW. It is particularly effective in the large, rural areas of African countries, where it brings power without requiring expensive connections to the electricity grid.

Lightening the load

Solar panels are made up of photovoltaic cells that absorb sunlight and release electrons which is converted into DC electricity. An inverter changes the DC electricity to AC electricity for domestic use. The solar cell is made of silicon, the inverter uses MOSFETs for high speed (800kHz max) switching at low voltages, and IGBTs for lower (20kHz) switching at higher voltages and higher currents. Inverters can be voltage[1]source or current-source, depending on the DC input.

Governments across Africa are working with foreign companies to deliver off-grid solar products to people who do not have access to electricity. These projects include setting up mini grids which are capable of powering entire communities but also look at developing domestic capacity for off-grid solar power.

Access to electric lighting will eliminate the use of dangerous kerosene lamps and reduce emissions which can increase air pollution as well as contribute to global warming. The electricity can also be used to power fridges and other appliances as well as TV and radio which are tools for education as well as entertainment in rural areas. The safer lighting on desks also helps businesses and anyone working or studying at home after dark. On a practical note, a standard LED lamp provides around 500 lumens which is 50 times that of a kerosene lamp.

International projects

The UK company, Bboxx, is supplying solar home systems to the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It will deliver the panels for installation on rooftops to 10 million citizens by 2024. Capable of providing up to 300W of power, the panels can be used to power laptops, TV, LED lights, and – in certain models – refrigerators and cooking equipment.

In the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Eritrea, and Djibouti are experiencing the worst drought in 40 years. Standalone solar PV irrigation systems could increase agricultural yields using solar energy to power water pumps for the crops.

In another project, by the IIASA (International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis) Energy, Climate, and Environment Program found that standalone solar photovoltaic irrigation systems have the potential to meet more than a third of the water needs for crops in small[1]scale farms across sub-Saharan Africa.

Giacomo Falchetta, Lead Author of Renewables for African Agriculture and a researcher in the Integrated Assessment and Climate Change Research Group of the IIASA programme, said: “Reducing the irrigation gap with cost-effective solar pumps can boost food production and improve nutrition, contributing to SDG 2 (Zero Hunger). Furthermore, surplus electricity generated by these systems could serve other energy needs, aligning with SDG 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy).”

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