Solar energy could help reduce poverty. David J. Grimshaw and Sian Lewis talk about its progress, its potential and the problems it poses.
Increasing access to energy is essential for ensuring socio-economic development in the world’s poorest countries. An estimated 1.5 billion people in developing countries do not have access to electricity, 80 percent of whom live in sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia.
The problem is greater in remote areas: 89 percent of the rural population in sub-Saharan Africa lives without electricity, more than double the proportion (46 percent) of urban areas.
For these people, even access to a reduced amount of electricity could lead to beneficial improvements in the areas of agricultural productivity, health, education, communications and access to clean water. .
Options to increase access to electricity in developing countries focus mainly on increasing central energy produced from fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal, by expanding the electricity grid . But this approach has few benefits for the rural poor. The extension of the network in these areas is either impossible to achieve or too expensive.
This strategy does not contribute to the fight against climate change either. Energy is already responsible for 26 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and while most of this energy is produced in industrialized countries, by 2030 developing countries will use 70 per cent cent of total annual energy more than developed countries.
There is therefore a clear need to find ways to improve access to electricity in the developing world, which benefits the poor and low carbon – solar energy could be a solution.
Read also: A bright future for Africa with Solar Energy
More than half of the world’s people without access to electricity currently live in sub-Saharan Africa. In this zone, “the number of people without access to electricity will continue mechanically to increase until 2025 or even 2040” according to the Montaigne Institute when the population growth there is “faster than the rate at which the populations have access to electricity.
In its note published February 13, the French think tank presents photovoltaic solar energy as “a promising solution” to meet the increased electricity needs in sub-Saharan Africa. This note recalls the advantages of this sector – “whose potential remains largely under-exploited today” – while setting the conditions for effective development, through several proposals.
The Montaigne Institute notes that the power plants commissioned in Sub-Saharan Africa “continue to be essentially thermal or hydroelectric”, with an electricity production cost on average very high: “of the order of 0.20 to $ 0.50 / kWh “according to the African Development Bank (compared to an average of $ 0.10 / kWh worldwide).
At the same time, solar photovoltaic is developing “in multiple forms: lighting (solar streetlights or solar lanterns), individual kits (typically a power of a few watts), mini-power plants off-grid (a few kilowatts), industrial roofs in self-consumption (from the ten to the hundred kilowatts), large solar fields (from megawatts to tens of megawatts) “. Photovoltaic installations have the advantage of being fast to build in isolated areas.
In order to remove the obstacles to their large-scale development (in particular 5 to 50 MW of intermediate plants, “crucial to the successful electrification of the African continent”), the Institut Montaigne notes that it is necessary to reduce the the cost of financing these “very capital-intensive and small” projects. To this end, it recommends, among other things, “to standardize the contractual structure of projects in order to facilitate their aggregation and the securitization of the debts they generate, and therefore their financing”.
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