By Tichaona Kurewa
Bulawayo – South Africa is the only African country ranked by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) as providing cheap solar energy to consumers as an alternative to other forms of energy and is currently sitting on number five globally.
South Africa is home to the largest solar farm in the Southern Hemisphere, Africa and the Middle-East region constructed in 28 months.
The 175 megawatt facility with the capacity to power 75 000 households, is located in the mostly arid land of De Aar in Northern Cape and spans across 473 hectares.
Statistics released by IRENA show that the rainbow nation is selling solar energy to consumers at US$0.075 per kilowatt-hour (kWh).
The United Arab Emirates is the cheapest in the world (US$0.030) followed by Mexico (US$0.045), Peru (US$0.048), Chile(US$0.065), Jordan (US$0.067), Germany (US$0.080), France (US$0.089) and the United Kingdom (US$0.093) is rated the most expensive in terms of solar energy.
The Zimbabwe Power Company, in partnership with Intratrek Zimbabwe, is working to establish the country’s inaugural 100 megawatt solar power station in Gwanda, Matabeleland South province, as government intensifies efforts to harness one of the cheapest sources of energy in line with efforts to provide power to all households in country.
Apart from these efforts, a sizeable number of the local population has turned to solar energy for lighting using solar lamps or torches and solar photovoltaic (Solar PV), solar phone charging and water heating.
According to IRENA solar PV is the most widely owned electricity source in the world in terms of number of installations, and its uptake is accelerating. It accounted for 20 percent of all new power generation capacity in 2015. In the last five years, global installed capacity has grown from 40 (gigawatts) GW to 227 GW. By comparison, the entire generation capacity of Africa is 175 GW.
The share of global electricity generated by solar PV could increase from the current 2 percent to as much as 13 percent.
IRENA director general Adnan Amin said solar PV capacity could reach between 1 760 and 2 500 GW by 2030, up from 227 GW in 2016.
“This comprehensive overview of the solar industry finds that these cost reductions, in combination with other enabling factors, can create a dramatic expansion of solar power globally. The renewable energy transition is well underway, with solar playing a central role,” he said.
Solar PV often costs between US$0.5 and US$0.10 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) in South Africa, India, Europe, China, and the United States. Last year, record low prices were set in the United Arab Emirates (5.84 cents/kWh), Peru (4.8 cents/kWh) and Mexico (4.8 cents/kWh).
Amin said world electricity demand is expected to grow by more than 50 percent by 2030, mostly in developing and emerging economies “To meet this demand while also realising global development and sustainability goals, governments must implement policies that enable solar to achieve its full potential,” he said.
To cope with the expected increase in the use of solar energy, IRENA suggests that government come up with updated policies based on the latest innovations; government support for continued research and development activities; creation of a global standards framework; market structure changes; and the adoption of enabling technologies like smart grids and storage.
IRENA is mandated to be the global hub for renewable energy co-operation and information exchange by 148 members (147 states and the European Union).
Roughly 28 additional countries are in the accession process and actively engaged.
IRENA promotes the widespread adoption and sustainable use of all forms of renewable energy, in the pursuit of sustainable development, energy access, energy security and low-carbon economic growth and prosperity.