The African continent is not homogeneous. The constant gap between the way we perceive the north of the continent and the harsh reality that the South is going through is often surprising. Many start to see and praise the 'African miracle” progresses. However, many obstacles remain for Africa to impose its way. The sun, is a natural, free and abundant wealth in the African land, would it not be the solution to reduce the high energy losses suffered by Africans?
The supposed free sun
Is the sun is a free and accessible source of energy? We tend to think so but it remains to be demonstrated. The African continent knows of similar agro-climatic conditions as many other countries under the same latitudes. Between the two tropics, the desert wilderness might say , through a rainfall gradient reaches its maximum at the equator , so the Africans receive , overall, no more, no less sun than their South American counterparts , Australian and Asian .
However, as noted by journalist Adrian Hart, the prejudice on this subject is legion “you do not have electricity? But the sun is free, so try solar energy! “. A position that is not exclusive to the West. Indeed, for Garai Makokoro, Director of the Energy Technology Institute of Zimbabwe, 'to develop the NEPAD countries need to find less expensive sources of energy while minimizing environmental risks and ensuring their sustainability. Solar energy is clean and renewable, and satisfies this equation... “.
He goes on to say that “African countries need to be creative. As the sun is free.” From there to think that Africans do not see where their interests lie, there is only one step. The reality is obviously not so simple, because if the solar resource is indeed abundant in Africa. However, converting this resource into usable energy has a cost that not everybody can afford.
Africa has both the largest number of poor and most homes do not have access to electricity. An estimated 1.5 billion people living in developing countries have no access to electricity and among them 80% of them live in sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia. In sub -Saharan Africa, it is 86% rural and 40% of urban dwellers have no access to electricity.
Why advocate for the poorest, the most expensive energy?
In the same article , Garai Makokoro mentions that the goal for economic solar energy to reach grid parity , that is to say, to reduce the unsubsidized cost of solar energy at a level equal or less than the cost of electricity from conventional network. But if we take the case of developed countries, this objective could only be envisaged that by 2020 in areas with strong sunlight (Spain, Japan , USA ).
To this is added to the purely solar systems, which represent systems not connected to the network, more than 40 % of fees to finance storage. But beyond the initial investment, while the lifetime of the solar panels is over 25 years, in sub-Saharan Africa, a battery does not exceed 3 years. Yet it is these autonomous systems that are subject to many projects on the continent. They are supported by grants which sustainability is not assured, especially in these times of budget shortages and scarcity of resources allocated to development assistance. Not to mention the fact that these support mechanisms often cause market distortions , particularly among suppliers, which may, for windfall , ultimately delaying the diffusion of technology and the emergence of private operators.
While solar energy, radiation deceptive? As often, the solutions can be provided to expand our horizons. The development of technologies based on energy mix, combining solar and other energy sources available on the continent, would reduce the cost of electricity production and make it accessible in disadvantaged areas. In fact, for Professor Yao Azoumouha , Director at 2IE the Joint Research Centre 'Energy and Sustainable Living' , a specialist of solar technologies , ' we can no longer meet current and future challenges of access to energy services in rural and peri-urban African with conventional technologies taken isolation. Innovation is imposed on us. Energy mix and intelligent systems are essential, optimal and sustainable solutions for rural electrification. Our researchers are part of this process through the development of an original concept of a hybrid system called flexy-energy that will revolutionize the supply of electricity in disadvantaged areas. '
In 2007, SciDev reported that just over 2.5 million households in developing countries have access to electricity from solar home systems which represent 1.6% on the basis of 10 per household. A number to compare with the 650 million African mobile phone subscribers who represent 65% of the total population.
In conclusion, it would be wise to simply assume that we are all rational homo economicus . And also in Africa, where even the poorest adhere to the new technologies, now available to them, and exploit them to improve the efficiency of their economic and social environment.
By Greenshine, solar street lights manufacturer