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Power Africa coordinator Andrew Herscowitz said that recent developments in the solar energy market could potentially increase access to electricity in sub-Saharan Africa

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While speaking at the Power Africa second annual conference held in the US in late January, Herscowitz said costs reduction coupled with technological improvements signal that solar energy could influence extensively in an international project to expand electricity access in sub-Saharan Africa, reports SciDev.Net.

“We think there’s a tremendous opportunity to go much bigger on solar,” Herscowitz said.

Power Africa road map

Launched in 2013 by US president Barack Obama, Power Africa is an initiative comprising of a consortium that includes, more than 120 governments, companies, NGOs and academic institutions, targeting to provide 60 million households and businesses access to electricity and add 30,000MW of power supply by 2030.

Power Africa released a road map at the conference, which said all energy projects, including those in which Power Africa is not involved with, solar schemes are forecast to provide 18,000 to 22,000MW of extra power in sub-Saharan Africa by 2030.

As for Power Africa itself, energy schemes providing 18,000 to 21,000MW will result from helping projects that are already underway reach the finish line through financial, technical and other forms of assistance, the road map says.

The road map further stated that another 11,000 to 14,000MW will come from new projects involving solar, geothermal, wind, hydroelectric and natural gas, as well as a few thousand more megawatts from making existing power supplies more efficient.

Improved technology boosts solar energy

Meanwhile, during the summit, Herscowitz highlighted that solar energy projects are becoming easier to implement due to improvements in household power generation and storage systems.

With these systems, “people aren’t just getting two light bulbs and a cell phone charger, but they’re getting access to appliances that basically let them live the same life that a person could live on the grid,” he said.

Battery storage – needed

In addressing the erratic nature of solar energy supply, US companies at the event promoted the potential of their products, including giant batteries to store energy generated by solar resources, which could later be converted to power.

Hamid Al Zayani from Midal Cables in Mozambique pointed out to the summit, the need for long distance power lines that could carry excess supply from places like Lake Victoria, where hydroelectric power is generated, to other areas that need power when the sun goes down.

The road map aims to add other renewable sources, including wind and geothermal, to its mix of energy resources.

Energy advisor for the UK department for international development, Steven Hunt, noted that a mix in energy resources is “a good thing” because it helps balance out the drawbacks of each energy type.