AMID unrelenting climate change, solar energy is expected to contribute nearly 50 percent of Africa’s energy requirements by 2050, a new study shows, on the back of booming investments in renewable and de-carbonised electricity systems.
Wind and hydro energy investments will nearly double from the 2020 levels, according to the latest study by Wood Mackenzie, a global research and consultancy business, which provides data, analytics and insights on the natural resource industry.
Investments in the thermal power plants are expected to drastically fall, the study notes.
Africa, responsible for just 3 percent of global emissions, is seen as the most vulnerable region to climate change as evidenced by extreme weather conditions.
More than 35 African countries, Zimbabwe included, and well over 1000 major companies have committed to emissions cuts in line with the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, which seeks to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius and strive for a ceiling of 1,5 degrees by 2030.
Investments in solar energy would be driven by off grid standalone home systems, mini and huge solar plants.
“Due to the rapid decline in renewable energy costs and innovative business models, addressing this chasm of consumption and investment to provide universal, reliable, affordable and de-carbonised access to electricity in Sub-Saharan Africa presents a massive and growing market opportunity within the energy transition,” says the study, adding renewables offers US$350 billion worth of investment opportunities.
Zimbabwe is targeting to produce 2 000 megawatts from renewable sources by 2030, a position the country also presented to the COP26 in Glasgow, United Kingdom, which is in line with its pledge to reduce greenhouse emissions by 2030.
Over the past few years, considerable investments in solar energy have been made in Zimbabwe, largely driven by constant power outages.
Off-grid residential demand is being served by standalone solar home systems.
As of 2020, there were an estimated 370 million private solar home-system consumers and 250 000 private mini-grid consumers in Sub-Saharan Africa, the study says.
Wood Mackenzie analysis shows that Sub-Saharan Africa’s standalone solar segment has raised more than US$2,3 billion of corporate-level investment since 2010, while the mini-grid sector has attracted US$800 million.
‘‘If a universal electricity access scenario is achieved in Africa, both could account for over half of new connections.
“Off-grid electricity service provision — initially for residential customers beyond the grid through the pay-as-you-go business model — is becoming an enabling mechanism for a host of other goods and services that customers are willing to pay for, most of which require basic electricity service,” according to the Wood Mackenzie study.
It says solar panels have declined in cost by more than 90 percent over the past decade and a similar trend is evident in the battery storage landscape.
These cheap, modular forms of power offer significant value compared with incumbent systems.
For commercial and industrial users, diesel generators have been hybridised with solar and batteries or displaced entirely, improving reliability and price certainty, reducing costs and significantly de-carbonising operations.
“This has created a compelling value proposition in many markets, taking these customers mostly or completely off the grid if they weren’t already,” says Wood Mackenzie study.