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[NAIROBI] Researchers have identified the most economical energy technologies for rural electrification across Africa.

With more than 600 million people living in Africa — particularly rural dwellers — lacking access to electricity, researchers say that their findings could help policymakers make informed decisions on rural electrification on the continent.

“If rural communities access electricity, growth will be accelerated at a bigger scale than what it is now.”

Samuel Gabra, University of Cambridge

“Energy is a very important aspect of life. If rural communities access electricity, growth will be accelerated at a bigger scale than what it is now,’’ says Samuel Gabra, the lead author of a study published in the December issue of Renewable Energy.

Gabra, a doctoral student at the Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology at the UK-based University of Cambridge, tells SciDev.Net that the study involved the use of a modelling technique to compare the costs of using wind, diesel and solar energy systems to generate electricity for rural Africa.

Mapping energy tech for electrifying rural Africa 1
A Kenyan family enjoying elecricity access powered by solar PV- photo curtesy Hivos, Africa Biogas Partnership Programme

Gabra and his team also created readily accessible maps on energy for use by policymakers. The findings show that wind energy systems are only economically favourable in the horn of Africa — Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia — because of the high average wind speed in this region of Africa.

“The lowest electricity costs from wind systems are found in Chad, Somalia, Western Sahara, and South Africa while the highest costs are incurred in Central Africa due to the low wind speeds in this region,” the study says. “Photovoltaic [PV or solar] is the lowest cost technology over the largest area, followed by diesel and finally wind. The dominance of diesel in North Africa along with a few locations in Sub-Saharan Africa arises from the low national diesel prices due to fuel subsidies.”

Mapping energy tech for electrifying rural Africa 2
Biogas could be a major source of energy for many households in Africa -photo curtesy Hivos, Africa Biogas Partnership Programme 

Gabra explains that the analysis focused on small-scale systems for rural electrification in Africa because they are not capital-intensive unlike large-scale energy systems.

According to the study, the analysis used data sources including the 2018 international fuel prices and cost of solar and wind energy systems as reported in a study published in 2019. 

Flora Kamanja, a senior engineer at Kenya Electricity Generating Company, says that the cost of generating electricity from solar systems has been decreasing over the past five years, so she is not surprised by the findings.   
Mapping energy tech for electrifying rural Africa 3
Wind systems is one of the most promising sources of electricity in some parts of Africa 

Reasons for the decreasing cost include the cost of solar materials becoming more affordable and the emergence of more experts on the market, Kamanja explains, adding that diesel and wind technologies are now just gaining more attention in Africa.

Kamanja adds that solar technologies for generating electricity have attracted interests from independent power producers. Gabra calls on policymakers to use the findings of the study to make informed decisions such as resource allocations to achieve optimum rural electrification in Africa.
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.


Samuel Gabra and others Techno-economic analysis of stand-alone wind micro-grids, compared with PV and diesel in Africa (Renewable Energy, December 2019)

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