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Solar may reach 35% of ‘Africa South’ generation stack by 2050

23 November 2020 Keiron Greenhalgh

Solar facilities could account for as much as 35% of the generation stack in 2050 across an area encompassing all of southern and central Africa plus large parts of West Africa, according to research by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA).

Solar would hold the largest slice of the generation pie in this region, which EIA calls "Africa South." The region includes countries such as Senegal and Somalia on an east-to-west axis while spanning a north-south spread of Nigeria to South Africa.

The forecast is reflects the base case ("Comparative Reference" case) in EIA's recently released "International Energy Outlook 2020."

Under the scenario, hydroelectric power would have a 22% share of the stack; coal would have 17%; and natural gas 14%.

However, for this situation to come to fruition, per EIA's "Maximum Off-Grid" case, the agency's modeling assumes solar off-grid sources contribute all of the additional generation beyond its base case totals through mini-grids and stand-alone photovoltaic facilities.

Under such circumstances, solar capacity is projected to increase from 3 GW in 2019 to 113 GW by 2050, the EIA said, compared with 20 GW by 2050 in the agency's Comparative Reference case.

The 2020 International Energy Outlook was the first in which the EIA did not assume all power demand was met by facilities connected to the central grid. It was also the first in which the agency split Africa into two regions.

The south of the continent has three options for expanding its access to electricity, according to the study:

  • connect customers to the existing grid through grid extension and densification;

  • set up localized distribution systems (micro-grid or mini-grid) linked to either a renewable or diesel generation source; or

  • install stand-alone generation sources, powered either by renewable sources or by diesel generators.

These options have trade-offs though, with the lower generation costs of central station generating units coming with a higher cost of transmission and distribution networks while the relatively higher cost of power from decentralized generating units is offset by the lower cost for distribution networks.

As of 2017, 79% of the population in northern Africa had access to electricity, but only 48% of their counterparts in the south of the continent had access, according to the World Bank.

The maximum off-grid case also sees 100% urban and rural access to electricity, which EIA says would increase residential demand by 120 TWh more than in its base case by 2030 and 174 TWh by 2050.

EIA did, however, add the caveat to its research that uncertainty about the changing rates of urbanization in African countries and the differences in potential energy demand.

Posted 23 November 2020 by Keiron Greenhalgh, Editor, Energy and Natural Resources Group, IHS Markit

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