African countries are acutely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, but they are also a source of many of its most promising solutions. Ambitious energy projects are being developed to tap into the continent’s clean energy potential.
Solar power in particular has long been identified as a field in which Africa has vast untapped potential. Its solar energy potential is greater than all other continents. The Global Solar Atlas indicates that the continent’s long-term practical photovoltaic (PV) yield averages at 4.51 kWh/kWp per day – marginally ahead of North America’s 4.37 and Europe’s 3.44. The potential for growth in solar energy potential is exciting despite limited infrastructure.
That growth is sorely needed. Just 9% of Africa’s current energy mix comes from renewable sources. Despite possessing 60% of the world’s best solar resources, the continent hosts just 1% of installed solar PV capacity, according to the IEA. Innovations in clean energy are therefore needed now more than ever. These three projects demonstrate the ingenuity of Africa’s solar energy innovators.
It’s no surprise that one of the world’s largest solar stations can be found on the fringes of the Sahara Desert. Noor Solar Station, 10km north of the city of Ouarzazate, is a venturous effort by the Moroccan Agency for Sustainable Energy to generate renewable energy at scale. The facility has a maximum capacity of 582 megawatts per year, enough to provide power for 1.5 million people.
This is just the beginning of Morocco’s vision for a more renewable future. The government hopes to raise the contribution of renewables to the national energy mix to 42% by 2030 and introduce ambitious plans to export excess energy to Europe.
Namibia is one of the world’s sunniest and most sparsely populated countries, and wants to harness this vast potential for clean energy. The government is partnering with French hydrogen specialist Hydrogène de France (HDF) to construct Africa’s first green hydrogen plant in the city of Swakopmund, which could start producing electricity as early as 2024.
The project will combine an 85-megawatt solar park with a hydrogen unit based on electrolyzers, fuel cells, and battery storage. This is significant because hydrogen production is normally a carbon-intensive process. Less than 1% of global hydrogen production is derived from renewable energy (green hydrogen), so the success of this project could lay the blueprint for widespread adoption of hydrogen as a major energy source.
Solar energy is rapidly becoming a key component in Ghana’s energy mix. Last year, the government and Bui Power Authority announced plans to build 8 solar plants in the north of the country with capacities varying from 10 megawatts to 100 megawatts. The first of these is already supplying 50 megawatts of its 250-megawatt potential, doubling Ghana's grid-connected solar energy.
But why stop at terrestrial construction when there’s plenty of potential solar real estate on the water? An inventive proposal to install solar panels on the surface of Lake Volta – the largest artificial lake in the world by area - has been given the go-ahead by the Ghanaian government. Volta is already home to a renewable energy powerhouse, the Akosombo Dam. It supplies 85% of the country's energy needs and even generates a surplus, which is sold to its neighbors Benin and Togo.
These three pioneering projects demonstrate the many possibilities for African innovation not just in solar power, but also in clean energies of all kinds. They are testament to the ingenuity of a continent which is responsible for less than 4% of global emissions and yet among the most impacted by its consequences.