By Greg Odogwu
On Tuesday 21th April, 2015, history will be made as the Solar and Off-Grid Renewables West Africa opens for a remarkable regional renewable energy summit at Movenpick Ambassador Hotel, Accra, Ghana.
The two-day conference and exhibition is a major international, top-level conference and networking event, which is first of its kind in West Africa, and quite timely at this time the world is waiting for developing countries to submit their own emissions reductions commitments ahead of the UNFCCC’s COP 21 in France. Naturally, at the core of carbon reduction is adoption of renewable energy in a green economy paradigm.
What is more, with Nigeria – the region’s biggest country – having come out from a successful presidential election, there are fresh hopes for the industry’s quantum leap in the sub-region. It is worthy of note that this West African regional conference would have taken place in Nigeria but the organisers factored in prevailing security uncertainties and political tension, which informed their subsequent choice of neighbouring Ghana.
Organised by PV Tech’s publisher, Solar Media, UK, the conference is dedicated to exploring the opportunities and challenges related to the deployment of renewable energy in West Africa. Essentially, it aims to support and accelerate the deployment of solar and off-grid renewable energy in Africa, and break down the barriers to development – financial, political, technological – by bringing together key stakeholders, including investors, policy makers, developers, energy companies, financiers, NGOs, manufacturers and suppliers.
Attendees will meet government ministers responsible for future energy planning; hear case studies about how they can develop a solar project in the region; find out how they can set up a local manufacturing facility; hear directly about what kind of projects will get backed from development banks, commercial banks, export credit agencies, venture capitalists and insurance companies; learn what kind of equipment will be needed in the region and how can it impact a project’s bankability; hear about ongoing initiatives to drive forward solar development in West Africa; learn how utility-scale solar projects gain access to the grid; find out about new projects of many different sizes; and network with a powerful selection of Government Ministers, Chief Executive Officers, Managing Directors and other senior representatives meeting to do business.
But the most important aspect is that in this West African edition, the organisers have apportioned a number of free guest passes for energy end users who wish to attend. And I think our vast population of energy consumers cannot afford to miss out on this opportunity.
This West African edition follows on from the sell-out success of the first event held in Kenya last year which hosted more than 200 international attendees. During the East African edition, local entrepreneurs, solar installers and researchers were connected to key international players who injected enduring traction to these Africans’ renewable energy efforts. Therefore, it would be good to witness this elixir administered in our own backyard here in West Africa.
There are several urgent reasons why an off-grid renewable energy market interface is what we need now, and outstanding among them is the yawning energy supply void. In fact the scenario can be better understood in what I call the ‘African Energy Paradox’. AEP says it is ironical that with our abundant God-given solar power, two-thirds of Africa’s population are not grid-connected and without electricity.
According to data from NASA, Africa has one of the highest solar irradiation levels in the world, up to 200KW squaremetre per year. Another source states that solar power in Africa has the potential to provide all of the world’s energy, by using only a small portion of the Sahara Desert. Many African countries receive on average 325 days per year of bright sunlight. This gives solar power the potential to bring energy to virtually any location in Africa without the need for expensive large scale grid level infrastructural developments.
Off-grid refers to not being connected to a grid, mainly used in terms of not being connected to the main or national electrical grid. In electricity, off-grid can be stand-alone systems or mini-grids typically to provide a smaller community with electricity. Off-grid electrification is an approach to access electricity used in countries and areas with little access to electricity. So, off-grid renewable energy supply is the use of renewable sources like solar and wind to power these units.
Actually, these systems can be more cost-effective than connecting to the grid in remote locations. This is where Africa comes in, with her rural-urban area imbalance.
There are indications that our region has the potential to meet up with carbon emissions targets through deployment of renewable energy infrastructure and systems. Many African nations are set on establishing a vibrant renewable energy sub-sector.
Kenya has set a target of 16.9GW of solar power by 2030. Uganda targets 61% of energy consumption from renewable by 2017, up from 4% today. Photovoltaic sales in Tanzania have been growing at 15% per year from the 5 years. The Nigerian government had announced plans to tackle inadequate power in the country with renewable energy generation to the tune of more than 2000 megawatts at first phase, and is also looking to establish a ‘silicon valley’ style science park to develop a domestic PV manufacturing industry.
In Ghana, the 155MW Nzema Solar Project, which is Africa’s largest, is in the final stages of financing. Senegal has allocated 120MW of independent power producer PV capacity to be commissioned before 2017. Indeed, a regional solar power explosion is in the offing.
Therefore, with success stories coming from other African countries in the area of deploying renewables for national growth, we need more germane global platforms to catch up with emerging trends and align with new business opportunities and linkages.
Fact is West Africa is now in the global radar. After Nigeria’s presidential election a fortnight ago, a study quickly surfaced, whereby Nigeria was projected as “set to become Africa’s only global superpower”. But the truth is without power, and a solid presence in the emerging alternative energy industry there is a limit to the country’s superpower aspirations.
The Ghana event will provide the opportunity for industry players to discover the opportunities for solar and renewable manufacturing investment in West Africa and hear about successful off-grid projects from around the world.
For our private sector participants, they will learn about major project opportunities in the African solar and off-grid renewable energy markets; while the public sector delegates will meet key national and regional government officials plus economic and technical experts. Then other innovators, activists and media experts, in addition to increasing their capacity, will compare notes with policy makers, investors, developers, manufactures and NGOs.
According to http://westafrica.solarenergyevents.com, more than 35 international speakers are scheduled to grace the event. And, surely, with renowned personalities like Ernesto Macias of the Alliance for Rural Electrification; Benjamin Hill, President Europe and Africa, Trina Solar; and Prof. Abubakar Sani Sambo, Chairman of the Nigerian Member Committee of the World Energy Council, the conference promises to be a catalyst platform for resounding regional impact.