There is one question I have always asked myself and fellow Africans; a question that is being asked by more and more people everyday… If there is so much sun shine in Africa, why isn’t the solar industry flourishing?
It is said that in 90 minutes, enough sunlight strikes the Earth to provide the entire planet’s energy needs for one year. Yet currently, only 0.05 % of the world’s energy emanates from photovoltaic solar systems.
Africa, as a continent, has tremendous solar energy capabilities due to the proximity of most of its land mass to the equator. Many African countries receive on average 325 days per year of bright sunlight. Yet we are yet to see the solar industry flourishing across the continent.
It’s not all doom and gloom, though. There are sporadic attempts to spearhead the solar agenda in some parts of the continent. For example, the governments of Botswana and Tanzania have taken efforts to give rural communities access to solar energy. There are also plans underway to build a 50-megawatt peak solar power station in South Africa and a similar project is being planned in Ghana, albeit by a foreign company. Countries like Libya are renowned for their solar power enthusiasm and there are also plans to export Tunisian solar energy to Europe.
But still, this does not hide the fact that the vast majority of Africa is not using solar energy to its full potential. The main reason behind the lacklustre progression of the solar energy sector is the cost of installing a solar system on an individual level. Most Africans who do not have access to electricity also cannot afford to install solar systems. And those Africans who can afford to set-up solar panels on their rooftops aren’t doing so because there has not been enough campaigning for solar energy by their governments.
Where people do not have access to electricity from the grid lines many use firewood, charcoal, kerosene and diesel generators for their energy needs. By replacing these expensive non-renewable forms of energy with cheaper solar energy, many Africans can start spending less on energy needs and this in turn will ensure that they have more money at their disposal to meet other needs. Surely, extra money in the pockets of Africans is good for the people and in turn good for their government? It is high time African governments got onboard the solar energy ark and steered the continent into a sustainable future.
So how do we get solar energy to the forefront in Africa? To begin with, governments should make it easier and cheaper for its people to install solar systems by getting rid of any tariffs on the importation of solar devices. This could hopefully create an incentive for people to purchase solar products. Furthermore, African educational institutions should be developed to spearhead solar energy research, thereby creating a pool of new age Africans who are capable of setting up industries and manufacturing solar devices and systems.
To address the financial barriers that hold back the average African from installing solar systems, African governments should also set up funds that enable poor Africans to get financial assistance towards the installation of solar systems. In short, governments should put solar energy high up on their agenda.
By concentrating on the solar energy sector and developing it, Africa has the potential to prove to the rest of the world that our energy needs can be met through sustainable means. It’s cheaper, it’s greener and I think it makes a lot of darn sense!