While many parts of Africa have been labelled ‘Land of the Sun’, in essence not all parts of Africa receive enough Direct Normal Irradiance (DNI) to be considered as good markets to install vast solar panel arrays as a good alternative to fossil fuels for energy creation. DNI has been defined as the amount of solar radiation received per unit area by a surface that is always held perpendicular to the rays that come in a straight line from the direction of the sun at its current position in the sky. Areas with high DNI values are better suited to have solar installations reap more ROI. Looking at the world map, Africa in general has very strong DNI, however parts of Africa, notably along the west coast from around Sierra Leone to the DRC have lower ratings, given in part to heavier regular cloud cover and rain.
That being said, energy demands are very large throughout Africa and most countries have serious shortages in power generation. I’ve written before about the fact that as an example, Tanzania, with a population of over 53 Million, has a current capacity of 2,000MW of electrical power in its grid system. Nigeria’s capacity is only 4,000 for a population of 190 Million. Compare this to 150,000MW of power generated by Canada with a population of 35 Million. Most of the power generated in Africa is done through diesel or gas generators. Solar power is one of the cleanest energy sources available and Africa would seem a great source of that energy.
Forbes reported last September that we could power the entire world by harnessing solar energy from only 1.2% of the Sahara desert, which is ripe for this given the 12+ hours of strong sun every day. This is unused land and the price tag would probably be around $5 Trillion dollars if built today using today’s technology.
The opportunities though to offer power to everyone in the world are insanely massive. The ability to be able to offer clean power in and of itself would save 95% of the people who die prematurely every year from fire and burn accidents related to heating and/or lighting in less developed regions. The costs of electricity in many parts of Africa are also insanely high with countries like Uganda, Namibia and Ghana leading the way. Driving around any big city almost anywhere in Africa will show you how different things are in Africa compared to the west. Almost every average to large house and virtually every business has their own generator. Larger businesses and hotels have multiple massive generators. Power is inconsistent and the ability to resolve the power issue would mean massive change to economies throughout Africa.
We see many governments across the continent with plans to create massive green electricity generation infrastructure, whether it be by hydro, nuclear, wind or solar. Governments understand that to make their countries more internationally competitive, they need to spend on capital infrastructures, and electricity generation is high on the list. Generating this electricity on the scale required will require some help (financial and otherwise) and some really innovative new technologies promise to bring down the cost of electricity generation for future projects.
Africa is not only in a dire need of electricity for its own people, but given the resources and abundance of high DNI land, it could conceivably become a world power on power. As always, it only requires great leadership and the ability to think not-so-far outside the box.
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