Africa must embrace new technologies to meet rising energy needs
Faltering state-owned utilities and the plummeting cost of renewable energy are making decentralised power solutions increasingly attractive across the continent
SA is facing the return of rolling power blackouts. Despite receiving a $4.9bn bailout, the largest in the country’s history, Eskom — SA’s national utility power has once again imposed power cuts due to unforeseen breakdowns at its coal plants.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, 600-million people, almost 60% of the continent’s population, still have no source of modern energy. The problem is starkest in rural areas where access to electricity is less than 25%. Even if national utilities and grids were entirely functional and able to meet demand, connecting them to remote, rural populations is uneconomical. Full cost of connecting residential customers (typically about $2,000) is significantly higher for rural areas and too expensive for most households.
At the same time, investment into decentralised power is growing, with for example, 400 mini-grids currently planned across the continent.
To advocates, mini-grids offer an ideal solution to Africa’s energy gap, but there are barriers to deploying them at scale. Many countries in Africa still lack specific policies for mini-grids in their national electrification plans, which makes planning difficult for private developers.
Grids will remain important but Africa must embrace new technologies into its future energy system. This future includes smart metering, storage and distributed generation, which will play an increasingly important role in the continent’s energy distribution mix. They may not be a silver bullet for Africa’s energy gap, but they are certainly helping to change the future of energy access.Read more: Business Day
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