The imminent arrival of Digital Terrestrial TV (DTT) in Africa will have a significant impact on the drive for greater electrification in rural areas. This is the view of Jack Ward, managing director of Powermode, a South African power provisioning company specialising in the design and implementation of back-up power sources for domestic, commercial and industrial applications.

He says the migration from analogue to digital television broadcasting, as mandated by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) in 2006, is scheduled to take place across the continent of Africa to meet a 2015 deadline.

“There is a groundswell of interest in DTT as it will offer viewers substantially more terrestrial television channels than are currently available. The technology will help improve the picture and sound quality of broadcast programmes and also give viewers access to radio and a host of other value-add services,” he says.

However, the major problem facing countries throughout Africa, including South Africa – supposedly the continent’s most advanced region – is the limited availability of electricity in remote settlements.

He says that for many households it could take as long as ten years before electrification is achieved due the high costs associated with providing links to a national energy grid in far-flung locations.

“Even for those rural areas that have access to grid power, the connections are generally unreliable due to frequent power outages – often as a result of cable theft – or due to load shedding when consumer demand exceeds the supply capabilities of over-stressed, aging power generating plants.”

Ward stresses that the only viable option for rural households – if costly, fossil-fuelled generator power is discounted – is renewable energy with new-generation, low-cost hybrid solar photovoltaic (PV) solutions being the preferred choice.

“These systems will be able to power TV sets and decoders and simultaneously run fridges, LED lights and sockets for the charging of mobile phones. When the sun is obscured, or at night, the battery backup takes over providing enough energy to last between four and six hours depending on off-take.”

He maintains that, driven by burgeoning interest and the subsequent demand for DTT systems, the solar PV market can be expected to evolve rapidly across Africa. “Up to now, solar energy adopters were predominantly ecologically-conscious consumers who would use solar PV power simply to augment electricity sourced from the national grid in a bid to minimise their carbon footprints. The ability to reduce their electricity bills was a bonus.

“Now, many grid-linked consumers and organisations are turning to hybrid solar power solutions with battery backup as a standby option in preference to petrol- or diesel-engined generators while an increasing number of off-grid users are embracing solar power as their primary energy source.”

Ward encourages politicians and legislators in Africa to support users who opt for solar installations with appropriate incentives, highlighting the potential of solar power to bring a raft of additional services to remote areas.

He says solar power is an option supported by the South African government via its New Household Electrification Strategy approved in June 2013. While more than 200,000 rural households have been equipped with electricity in 2012/13, according to the department of energy, around 3.2 million installations are required. It confirms that solar power will play a significant role in reaching this target as a non-grid electrification roll-out will be faster and cheaper.

“In addition to solar PV installations targeted at domestic applications, similar, up-scaled installations can be used to service small communities where they will be able to provide clinics, community centres and schools with energy to power essential appliances, equipment and lighting,” adds Ward.