Powering Africa: Solar set to overtake hydro in 7 years — report

solar panels

Solar panels.

Photo credit: File

Photovoltaic (PV) solar is forecast to overtake hydropower as the biggest source of renewables in Africa by 2030, driving the continent's pivot to a climate-neutral economy.

According to IEA's Africa Energy Outlook 2022 report, clean energy will account for most of the generating capacity additions, up to 2030.

"Solar PV leads the way, with 125 GW of capacity added between 2021 and 2030, over 40 per cent of total capacity additions," reads the report in part.

Currently, Africa holds only 1 per cent of the world’s installed solar PV capacity, despite being home to 60 per cent of the best solar resources globally.

"Of the top 20 per cent of solar sites globally, Africa is home to around 60 per cent of them by land area... the projected average rate of solar PV capacity additions is roughly equal to that of India in recent years."

Solar PV, already the cheapest source of power in many parts of the continent will outcompete all sources continent‐wide by 2030.

 "Renewables, including solar, wind, hydropower and geothermal account for over 80 per cent of new power generation capacity to 2030 in the SAS," states the IEA report.

The projected global growth of solar power generation will underpin the widespread adoption of solar energy solutions in Africa.

"Installed capacity in Africa doubles in the SAS, from 260 gigawatts (GW) in 2020 to 510 GW in 2030, with a profound shift in the type of power plants built across the continent," the IEA said.

"Once the projects currently under construction are completed, coal loses ground, while among renewables, solar PV overtakes hydropower before 2030 and challenges natural gas as the largest source of power generation capacity." 

Electricity demand on the continent is forecast to surge by around 75 per cent from 680 TWh to 1 180 TWh over the decade to 2030 in the Sustainable Africa Scenario (SAS).

Households will account for over half of the increase, driven by increased ownership of appliances and other electrical equipment while industries contribute most of the rest.

Already, states like Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe have introduced programmes for solar water heating systems to reduce electricity demand.

Egypt has also introduced tax exemptions for materials needed to make energy‐efficient products, while Morocco has strengthened thermal efficiency regulations and standards for buildings.

Africa Energy Outlook 2022 also shows Burkina Faso, and some other countries, have introduced soft measures to temper the electricity growth from increased cooling needs.

While the IEA projects total per capita electricity demand to jump from 500 kilowatt‐hours (kWh) in 2020 to 700 kWh in 2030, it remains far below that of other developing regions, despite growing faster than in any other region.

Solar power generation in Africa is benefiting from the investments initially earmarked for coal plants being redirected to solar PV, inestment which could cover half of the cost of all Africa’s solar PV capacity additions to 2025.

Significantly, China’s commitment to end support for coal plants abroad could also force investors from that market to focus on other African energy investment offerings.

At the same time, China announced its intention to step up investment in renewables‐based electricity in Africa.

According to the IEA, the SAS projections require annual power sector investment to ramp up to around 80 billion US dollars per year on average over the period 2021‐30, compared with 30 billion US dollars per year over the previous decade. The source of investment is likely to be a mix of private and public.

Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco have invested billions of dollars in power generation, particularly solar, in a bid to plug national deficits and cash in on the surplus.

For instance, at 580 MW, the Ouarzazate Solar Power Station - also called the Noor Power Station - in central Morocco is the world's largest concentrated solar power plant.

As African countries boost electricity supply from solar and other renewable sources, markets are emerging to cash in on their investment.

Egypt has outlined plans to link its electricity grid with Sudan, Libya, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, as it pushes to become a major regional power interconnector.

Documents show a proposed undersea cable will stretch 1,396 kilometres (the world’s longest) with 2.7 billion US dollars committed for the project.

It would allow the three Mediterranean nations to share up to 2,000 megawatts at peak times –– and could provide a channel for other African states to sell power to Europe.

As the report makes clear, the shift to renewables is not only necessary to combat climate change but also presents unique opportunities to create successful business models that will make energy generation and distribution more efficient, locking in value during the green energy transition.

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