A new assessment by the US Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) has concluded that wind and solar resources in Africa could be the answer to the continent’s rising demand and related costs in electricity generation, and have suggested strategic siting of resource development.
In order to meet the perpetually growing demand for electricity, African nations would most likely have to triple their energy output by 2030. According to lead researchers Ranjit Deshmukh and Grace Wu, wind and solar, which are often dismissed for being expensive and “temporally variable” could very well be the solution Africa needs now. Given the abundance of solar and wind resources in almost every African nation, stated the researchers in their report titled Strategic Siting and Regional Grid Interconnections Key to Low-Carbon Futures in African Countries. In addition, Wu and Deshmukh believe that total system costs would be lower if the countries developed their resources in isolation without strategic siting. “System costs can be further reduced if wind farms are sited where the timing of wind generation matches electricity demand rather than in areas that maximise wind energy production. These cost savings are due to avoided natural gas, hydro, or coal generation capacity.”
For instance, researchers discovered that in a high-wind scenario in the South African Power Pool, strategic siting and grid interconnections could reduce the need for conventional generation capacity by 9.5% , resulting in cost savings of six to 20%, depending on the technology that was avoided.
“Together, international energy trade and strategic siting can enable African countries to pursue ‘no-regrets’ wind and solar that can compete with conventional generation technologies like coal and hydropower,” Wu said. “No-regrets options are low-cost, low-impact, and low-risk.”
Wu added that the manner of tackling the impending energy crisis by Africa could very well set the precedent for other countries while managing their own energy needs.
The Berkeley Lab study uses multiple criteria-such as quality of the resource, distance from transmission lines and roads, co-location potential, availability of water resources, potential human impact, and many other factors-to characterize wind and solar resources. An assessment of the South African Power Pool (SAPP) and East African Power Pool (EAPP), with a total of 21 countries and half the continent’s population, revealed that many of these countries have wind and solar potential several times greater than their expected demand in 2030. Through the MapRE tool, policymakers will be able to do a preliminary evaluation of various sites on their own without having to rely on developers for technical information.
Now, the amounts of wind and solar developed in Africa is minimal but with global prices having declined significantly over the past decade, renewable energy has become a competitive alternative, stated the researchers.