Africa integrates into global renewables: after years of false starts, the renewable energy sector is finally taking off in Africa, buoyed by the meteoric rise of renewables worldwide.

Author:Ford, Neil
Position:SPECIAL REPORT: RENEWABLES
 
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According to the 2016 Global Trends in Renewables Global Status Report, more than twice as much was invested worldwide on renewable energy generating capacity as fossil capacity in 20x5, despite the fact prices of oil, coal and gas were particularly low. The 147GW of new capacity added in 2015 cost $286bn and was nearly double the 82GW of capacity added for coal and gas. Moreover, more new renewables capacity was added in emerging markets than in the industrialised world for the first time.

The report was published in May by REN21, an international organisation comprising governments, scientists and environmental NGOs. REN21 executive secretary, Christine Lins, said: "It clearly shows that the costs have come down so much that the emerging economies are now really focusing on renewables. They are the ones with the biggest increases in energy demand, and the fact that we had this turning point really shows the business case."

According to statistics from the International Renewable Energy Agency, 10% of the 600m Africans living off-grid now have access to electric light from renewables, mainly solar photovoltaics (PV). Prices are as low as $56 a year in some areas, which is cheaper than light from diesel or kerosene, as well as a good deal safer. It is off-grid solar PV, above all else, that has the potential to achieve the new United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of ensuring universal access to electricity by 2030.

Competition among solar PV module manufacturers is intensifying, particularly in China, helping to drive price down below $400/KW in some markets. As a result, the purchase price of PV modules now accounts for just 30-50% of the total cost of PV projects in most countries, with installation, transport and other charges making up the remainder.

The evolution of the solar PV industry has followed the same path as that of the wind power sector, with construction and development costs falling as the industry grows and technology becomes more efficient. For much of the development of both technologies, they have only been commercially competitive because of subsidies but they are now commercially viable in some countries in their own right. In August, renewable energy came out on top in Chile's latest power generation tender. The best bid for gas-fired capacity was $65 per megawatt hour (MWh), in comparison with the average winning bid of just $47.55/MWh for wind power. In September, the Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity...

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