A shopkeeper in the rural Kenyan town of Bomet sells more than 200 small solar lamps each month. After charging in direct sunlight each lamp lights a small room from dusk to dawn. Children can now do their homework and the educational impact of thousands of solar lights in once-dark homes can be measured around Bomet. But the fact remains that millions continue to live without electricity!
Nearly 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa lack access to electricity
In 2013 the International Energy Organisation (IEO) reported, “ there are nearly 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa who lack access to electricity. Since 2000, around two-thirds of the people gaining access to electricity have been in urban areas and the population without electricity access has become more concentrated in rural areas.”
High levels of solar radiation available for power generation
Many parts of Sub Saharan Africa boast uniquely high levels of solar radiation offering the possibility of generating virtually unlimited electric power from a safe and secure green energy source – the Sun! This offers clean energy solutions in three distinct areas:
- Utility-Scale Power for grid connected users in cities
- Off-grid power for commercial users remote from national grids including farms and mines
- Off-grid power for rural residential users
This is good news especially for rural residential areas (including shop-keepers, schools, hospitals and community centres), who make up the bulk of Sub Saharan Africa’s population – currently with no access to grid-supplied electricity now or in the foreseeable future.
Key technology differences
Solar power includes two very different technologies, Concentrated Solar Thermal Power (CSP), and Photovoltaic (PV)
- These convert sunlight directly into electricity and range in size from small residential roof top installations to large solar farms feeding electricity into national grids.
Concentrated Solar Power
- CSP uses reflectors to concentrate the sun’s heat on to a receiver to generate high temperatures to create steam to drive generators producing electricity.
The key differential offered by CSP technology is the ability to store the heat at high temperature for extended periods and thus continue to produce electricity when the sun is not shining and especially at periods of peak usage typically during early morning and evening.
Eskom Chair in Concentrating Solar Power, Stellenbosch University, Frank Dinter states, ” Concentrating Solar Power with Thermal Energy Storage (TES) system is one of the best technologies to produce electricity in large-scale power plants in the future. South Africa for instance is blessed with a very high solar resource. By covering an area of less than 60 km by 60 km in the Northern Cape all electricity needed in South Africa could be produced by CSP plants.”
“This means that solar power plants with TES are not only providers of environmentally friendly solar electricity, but also power sources with operational capabilities that have the potential to support the continued reliability of the electric power system. Furthermore, the flexibility given by TES allows this type of plant to shift electricity generation to meet capacity needs and peak demands” continues Dintner.
CSP systems with their associated thermal storage and steam generating plant do come at an initial higher cost than the solar panel technology of photo voltaic systems. This explains why at rural and commercial level, and for utility scale power generation without storage photovoltaic (PV) systems are enjoying wide acceptance in Africa.
A unique Solar Focus Day at Clean Power Africa on 12th May 2014 at the CTICC in Cape Town will unpack the technology mix and benefits in applications ranging from Utility scale large CSP projects through Commercial and Residential Roof Top solar. Featuring expert speakers covering both Photo Voltaic and Concentrated Solar Power attendees have convenient access to both solar technologies through presentations and panel discussions, technical workshops on the exhibition floor.
Visit the website on http://www.clean-power-africa.com for more information.