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Solar’s on the rise …

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“We are sitting on gold” said Rethabile Melamu, CEO of the South African Photovoltaic Industry Association (SAPVIA), moderator of the session on: The role of solar as part of the energy mix- what does it mean for the sector and its various players, during the recent edition of Enlit Africa in Cape Town.

Ms Melamu added: “COP28 made a commitment to triple renewables by 2030. That means between now and 2030, we need to deploy 11 terawatt of renewables. Is it possible, and how do we see Africa as a continent playing a role in contributing to that 11 terawatt?”

She also mentioned that of the 550 GW of global solar capacity installed in 2023, only 5 GW was installed in Africa.

“No reason not to switch”
Ralf Blumenthal, head of Siemens Grid Software Middle East and Africa, addressed the continued hesitation by some countries on the continent to adopt renewables due to price and variability of renewable energy technologies.

“When I look across Middle East countries, they were in a very similar situation five, six years ago. Oil and gas is abundant, right? So why would they switch? Because there is a business case behind it, quite simple.”

He continued: “So they realised in 2017 or so, when most of the Middle East countries built up their energy strategies, that if they don’t move to renewables, even though oil and gas is super cheap for them, they will miss out on hundreds of billions of dollars over the next 20 years, 30 years. And that’s where they switched. So there is no reason not to switch. It’s technologically possible. It’s commercially viable.

“If we talk about financing in Africa and other places for new generation projects, financing is more easily accessible if it’s a renewable project. So in my opinion, the hesitation not to switch is more of a human nature. We always overvalue what we have to what’s out there.”

Largest hybrid in Africa
Sherwin Harris, CEO of the Oya Hybrid Energy Project explained that these kind of hybrid plants simultaneously provide economic and environmental benefits.

The Oya project produces 155 megawatts of solar, hybridised with 86.2 megawatts of wind, and 242 megawatt hours of battery. It is part of South Africa’s Risk Mitigation Independent Power Producers Procurement Programme (RMIPPPP). “So why we are excited about this development?” Harris asked. “It demonstrates dispatchable and base load power in terms of renewable solar, wind and batteries. This something that we see growing in the future and becoming more common.”

He continued: “So, within the energy stable there’s a lot more of these projects that we have in development, where I think it is kind of the largest hybrid in Africa and potentially globally. And within the energy stable there are a lot more of these across different regions that we are developing in terms of hybridising solar, wind and battery to produce dispatchable base load power.”

Renewables only democratic form of generation
“Anybody that owns a roof, doesn’t matter how small it is, and doesn’t use solar for at least a portion of their electricity needs is wasting money” stated Wido Schnabel, business development director for Canadian Solar.

He also described battery storage for utility and solar as the “only democratic form of energy generation. What I mean by that is that each one of us can generate their own electricity for themselves. So it is  really a democratic way of generating power. And I think that’s so powerful, especially for Africa.”

“How are we doing it?”
Africa GreenCo has been acting as a renewable energy buyer and seller that is aggregating the risk of renewable energy projects and also brings up credit readiness of renewable energy projects, particularly in the Southern African Power Pool. It currently has a presence in four countries, Zambia, South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe.

“We are also working hand in hand with different utilities in each and every of these countries,” said Mbiko Banda, a Zambian engineer and PhD student doing a research in integration of renewables and research lead at Africa GreenCo. She reminded the panel that over time, many private players have been coming onto the market, which is why market reforms are necessary for a just energy transition.

“I’m addressing it from the point of view that not necessarily every household may afford to have solar installations at their place. What then happens to the population that’s dependent on the utility or any other solutions that are coming through?”

Industrialisation agenda needed
Yunus Hoosen, acting head of investment promotion at the South African Department of Trade and Industry, spoke of the regulatory changes that have spurred the solar revolution in South Africa. The first major policy reform was alleviating the cap on private sector generation. Since then, the Energy Regulation Act has allowed for energy trading and opportunities for private sector participation. However, he stressed that South Africa and Africa now need an industrialisation agenda to ensure value creation throughout the energy transition.

He stated: “At the core of our work is investment promotion, attracting and talking to investors. We did a benchmarking study in terms of how competitive South Africa could be in renewable energy components, together with the IFC, and you’ll be surprised that in terms of solar components, throughout that value chain, throughout the chain of battery storage and turbines, across a number of competitive countries, such as Kenya, Morocco, Brazil, China and Turkey, South Africa is quite competitive across costs, supply, labour, transport, quality.“

  • This article first appeared in the GREEN ECONOMY EXPRESS, issued by Africa’s Green Economy Summit.


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