Sub-Saharan Africa’s power network is not wide-reaching or accessible to the masses, especially those living outside of urban areas. However, most African people are already using devices—like mobile phones—that require energy daily. Recently, the need for power infrastructure development in the region has reached a peak and key choices will be made quickly in the coming years that will determine the way energy is sourced and consumed for generations to come.
Although solar energy is a sustainable source of power, the advantages of solar energy in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) are more robust than the eco-friendly nature of the source. In today’s post, we will examine the reasons why solar energy is a thoughtful and sustainable choice for Sub-Saharan Africa’s evolving energy infrastructure.
Grid-Based Power Systems in Sub-Saharan Africa
Many parts of the world use grid-based power systems that harness power through fossil-fuels or water, for example. Upon first glance, grid-based power may seem like the most logical option because much of SSA already has some grid-based energy structure in place. Upon further examination, grid-based power has some fundamental issues in the African market.
Grid-based power would require massive distribution networks to be built throughout the vast continent. Subsequently, connections would need to be developed to transport power from these power hubs to the people currently without an electricity source. SSA is an incomprehensibly large mass of land where, outside urban center populations, many rural people live in remote isolation—far from other power-needing people. Due to this fact, grid-based power systems do not make much logical sense for the region. Power connections would need to be developed to connect very small clusters of people with energy, which is an inefficient structure.
Need for Off-Grid Solar Power in Sub-Saharan Africa
Solar energy provides an efficient and cost-effective alternative to grid-based power solutions. Solar panels can be placed where energy is needed and used regularly, rather than weaving connections to thousands of siloed people from scattered power plants. Solar panels can also be added incrementally in locations based on the size of the population using the power source, so remote farmers can have just a few solar panels while small villages can have as many as they need to power their lives.
Decentralized systems may be the key to providing reliable and sustainable communication and power for 600 million people who are currently without mass communication and reliable power. Of course, the solar power systems, backed by large batteries are more expensive than the centrally run grids in all but the most remote locations, but the cost of local, decentralized power production is quickly going down. On-site power is now cheaper than the electricity tariffs paid by commercial or industrial clients in 47% of markets in the region studied by BloombergNEF.
Effects of an Unstable Grid-Based Power System
“Each year, the average Sub-Saharan African manufacturing frim looses 5.5% of annual sales due to power outages, over double the global average (2.6%).” According to World Bank data, businesses in Nigeria face more than one outage per day and each outage lasts an average of 8 hours. When the grid is down, customers must absorb the loss of production or resort to the relatively high cost of diesel backup power. Not only do these power outages cost production loss, but the frequent voltage fluctuations from the unstable power grid causes serious damage to sensitive equipment. Solar power units are often now deployed to complement off-line diesel power generators. Renewable energy sources, like solar energy, are more reliable choices for the sake of a functioning society and market.
Takehiro Kawahara, lead power analyst for BNEF commented on the need for solar energy in SSA with the following, “the market is small but the immense energy deficit and the crumbling power infrastructure makes Sub-Saharan Africa fertile ground for localized solar power.” From this statement and supporting research, it is clear that grid-based power structures are not the most effective fit for fixing SSA’s energy access struggle. GeoPoll’s leading mobile-phone-based research platform can help your organization dig deeper into the issues with the power network in SSA by connecting you directly with everyday people—even in the rural and remote regions that are hard to reach through traditional methods. To learn more about how GeoPoll can help you connect with African people for surveys on their access to solar energy, contact us today.