Spotlight on Africa: Renewable energy projects hold promise


The roadblocks impacting renewable energy growth in some parts of Africa are well documented. But that’s not discouraging aggressive expansion in those countries where the potential for new solar and wind projects is greatest.

Looking at the future demand trends for those African countries that are moving rapidly toward adopting renewable energy strategies, it’s no surprise that those regions continue to draw investment dollars. A newly released report from NPD Solarbuzz shows new solar PV demand from the Middle East and Africa, or “MEA region,” is forecast to reach 1GW in 2013, when the final figures are tallied for last year. This would represent an increase of 625% Y/Y from 136 MW in 2012.

“Historically, the MEA region lagged behind global PV markets, but it is starting to catch up,” said Susanne von Aichberger, analyst at NPD Solarbuzz. “By 2017, the region is forecast to account for 3.7 GW of annual PV demand, with the potential to reach up to 9 GW.”

Although the MEA region benefits from very high solar insolation levels, existing PV deployment has been confined mainly to “development projects,” observers say.In fact, the MEA region accounted for just 0.5% of global PV demand in 2012, despite comprising 17% of the world’s population.

Recently, there has been a strong increase in PV applications across the MEA region following the introduction of ambitious funding schemes, most notably in South Africa, Israel, and Saudi Arabia, according to NPD Solarbuzz. As a result, PV contributions from the MEA region are now poised for rapid growth, and the region is expected to account for 6% of global PV demand by 2017.

In the near term, South Africa is forecast to become the largest PV market within the MEA region, having completed the first two bidding rounds of the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Program (REIPPP) in 2012. Already, this program has created a PV project pipeline of 1 GW that will be installed by the end of 2014. This could result in 1.45 GW of new PV capacity, analysts predict.

Over the next five years, a greater number of countries across the MEA region will start to contribute to the overall PV market, decreasing the share from Israel, Saudi Arabia, and South Africa to below 50%, according to NPD Solarbuzz. By 2017, the firm forecasts that ground-mount PV applications will account for more than 70% of PV demand across the MEA region.

NPD Solarbuzz is not alone in belief that more countries in the MEA region will contributed to PV growth globally. Ash Sharma, senior research director for solar at IHS, expects that all major global regions — i.e., Europe, the Middle East, Africa, the Americas and Asia — will expand their solar installations in 2014.

“The growth in the developing PV nations will more than offset the poor conditions in the large, well-established solar markets,” he predicted.

Suppliers are taking note of the lofty forecasts. In an interview with the organizers of the upcoming Clean Power Africa & African Utility Week Conference, Stephan Padlewski, regional marketing manager, DuPont Photovoltaic Solutions, EMEA, backed IHS research showing continued growth in South Africa. Over the last two years, according to IHS, the country has emerged very rapidly, and is poised to reach about 0.5 GW this year. The primary drivers, he said, include an impressive pipeline of very large utility-scale, ground-mounted projects that rank amongst the largest in the world. What’s more, he said the allure of the South African PV market has brought in a large number of European EPCs, which has increased competition and accelerated the penetration of solar in the market.

“The South African government has demonstrated a strong commitment to the development of a greener economy, which can help deliver lower-cost energy, encourage job creation, economic development and the establishment of a sustainable local renewable industry,” Padlewski explained in the interview. “With the growing demand of electricity in the region and the increasing electricity prices, the renewable energy market looks set to enjoy steady growth over the next 10 years.”

The same could be said for the future prospects for onshore wind power in the MENA region. According to Dii, the international alliance for desert power, 1.4 GW are currently in operation in the region — of which 22% has been installed in 2013. Currently, projects of 1.3 GW are either under construction or nearing construction, with 20 GW planned by MENA countries through 2020. Dii believes onshore wind could eventually meet around 50% of the energy demand needs in the region.