Africa’s green energy revolution is gathering pace
Solar panels and wind turbines are becoming an increasingly common sight across Africa, as the continent’s green energy revolution gathers pace.
But to reap the benefits of an energy system in which renewable sources are dominant, investment is desperately needed in a type of infrastructure that can easily be forgotten – electricity transmission.
Investment in long-distance power lines is ramping up around the world, given that wind and solar facilities are often located far from power consumers. But Africa is lagging behind.
This became painfully apparent in South Africa at the end of last year. The country is experiencing devastating blackouts. But in its latest bidding round for independent power producers, the government announced that it would contract just 860 MW in new renewable energy capacity – less than a fifth of what it had originally planned to procure.
The fiasco was the result of the grid – operated by Eskom, the troubled state-owned utility – becoming overloaded in parts of the country where wind and solar power is abundant.
“The most attractive sites with the lowest tariff potential are in fact not eligible for procurement due to the lack of grid availability,” laments Moritz Breickmann, investment director at African Infrastructure Investment Managers. Strengthening grid connections to the resource-rich Northern Cape province, as well as improving north-south transmission capacity in the country, must be key priorities, he says.
At least until recently, however, grid investment has tended to be a low priority across most African countries. Occasionally, new renewables projects have been left dormant because of a lack of transmission.
The Lake Turkana wind farm in Kenya – the largest in Africa – was completed in July 2017. But the accompanying transmission line was delayed, and the turbines could not supply power to Kenya’s electricity grid until October 2018.
There are some promising signs that attitudes towards private sector involvement are beginning to change in Africa. Alastair Herbertson, a director at the Emerging Africa Infrastructure Fund, which provides debt financing for infrastructure projects on the continent, says that some governments are considering different approaches to strengthening transmission networks.
Source: African Business