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Fri Apr 13, 2012, 11:03 PM

Rural Africa Looks Beyond the Grid

Let's put another nuclear myth to rest - nuclear cannot improve the lives of the world's poorest, but renewable are poised to make a huge impact.

Rural Africa Looks Beyond the Grid
Economic growth, plunging PV prices and an improving business ecosystem could spark the long-awaited takeoff of off-grid renewables in sub-Saharan Africa.

By Piers Evans, Production Editor, Renewable Energy World magazine
April 12, 2012
...Other commentators are sceptical about the ability of renewables to make headway in Africa, given their limited impact in jurisdictions that extend generous official support. For sub-Saharan Africa, a study by the Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP) in 2007 found that renewables only undercut conventional generation for off-grid applications of less than 5 kW.

Yet arguments for off-grid renewables clearly gain force in sparsely populated regions where the alternatives are so costly in terms of cash, the environment and even time — with women walking 5-10 km a day with loads of up to 30 kg of firewood in some parts of Tanzania, according to UNIDO.

Extending grids to tackle these issues often looks wildly unfeasible. Construction costs can surge, in sparsely populated regions such as Mali, up to US$19,070/km, according to World Bank figures. Difficult terrain often presents a further obstacle to reaching remote populations — which, in any case, may lack the demand to justify the investment.

Camco, a global developer of clean energy projects, sees its recent contract to develop solar home systems in Tanzania as a sign of the sector’s imminent takeoff. ‘We are at a step-change in Africa in terms of the renewables sector,’ says president Yariv Cohen. ‘The main issues that were limiting development of renewable generation there have been greatly removed. It’s an easier environment to do business in. Demand is soaring. The ecosystem is growing. The government is favourable to it.’

Renewables vs Diesel...


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