Small-scale renewables: Solution for power-poor Africa

Cheap, quick and off-grid small-scale renewables emerge as answer to Africa`s energy poverty, experts say


Small-scale renewable energy projects can provide much needed relief in electricity poor Africa, according to Rentia van Tonder, head of Power at South Africa-based Standard Bank.


According to the International Energy Agency’s report on Africa, more than 620 million people do not have access to electricity and most of them are located in sub-Saharan Africa.


In one of the world’s most energy poor continents, “I think renewables is absolutely key,” Tonder told Anadolu Agency on Tuesday.


"Potential in renewable energy in Africa is unbelievable," she said and added that renewables are a viable choice for getting electricity quickly to poor regions.


Addressing the advantages of small-scale renewable energy projects, she pointed out that such projects can be easily downscaled making it easier to obtain finance or enlarged by adding more megawatt capacity in accordance with needs.


“It’s not like a mega project that needs a lot of complicated structures to finance so it may be easier to roll renewables out much quicker,” Tonder argued.


Another selling point for small-scale renewables is that they do not require connection to the grid system to work, she highlighted.


“We are doing a lot of work around off-grid, especially models to be introduced to small communities,” she said and added that they will be “the type of models to change the lives of small communities especially there is no grid connection or possibility of reaching a grid.”


She noted that structuring sizable renewable energy projects will require grid connection, but “with small-scale solutions you can be off-grid.”


Government backing is essential for any project to run smoothly and particularly energy, Tonder said.


“It’s always easier when there is an enabling environment the government actually comes and says we are happy to support the project and provide bankable power purchase agreements that will be able to give the commercial bank and other funders comfort to invest in these projects,” she explained.


Renewable energy prices have come down with improvements in technology, she reminded.


“We have seen prices come down and I think that’s extremely important for countries looking for cost-effective tariffs to run projects at lower costs,” Tonder said.


"Renewables may make sense for countries if they want to expand quite quickly and at lower prices than two years ago,” she said, adding that especially in rural areas smaller sized energy projects of solar, wind and small hyower are needed, she concluded.


"Africa definitely has short-term needs of electricity, and renewable energy is a feasible choice, but not the whole answer,” Niall Kramer, chief executive officer of the South African Oil and Gas Alliance told Anadolu Agency.


"It is a fallacy for people to think that the renewable industry and hydrocarbon industry are in competition with each other,” Kramer said.


He hailed the importance of people understanding the technological breakthroughs that renewables, especially solar and wind, have had recently.


However, he cautioned that the use of renewables as a supply source alone can result in intermittent problems in electricity supply.


“When the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing, you are going to need hydrocarbons to deal with that intermittency,” he said.


All energy sources should be thought of as interchangeable, and used accordingly, Kramer explained.


“They are intricately interwoven, ”he said and added, “For those short-term issues around electricity, many people are looking at renewables but you need to work towards the short and long-term solutions,” he argued, advocating for diversity in the energy mix.


Kramer believes the way to achieving smooth electricity generation is to exploit the strengths of different energy sources to make up for shortcomings in one particular source.


To realize these energy solutions, “governments need to make regulations and laws attractive for foreign investors. They need to give certainty to the laws," he said adding that “Certainty is probably the most significant feature,” when attempting to attract investors.


Investors want to see a stable environment they know the law surrounding energy projects and government backing will not suddenly change, he said.


"Integration across different governmental departments is also important," Kramer said, highlighting the necessity to have an integrated look and approach in projects


“Policy certainty is the one thing to turn potential into reality,” he concluded.


By Zeynep Beyza Kilic and Huseyin Erdogan (Anadolu Agency) / news

30 Jun,2016