Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) and Photovoltaic (PV): Has time come for solar energy in Africa?

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As Africa’s energy supply needs to be stepped up urgently to satisfy the continents’ growing energy needs and avoid some of the serious economic and social costs of the deficiency, renewable energy technologies have emerged as additional alternatives to build the relevant energy infrastructure while aligning Africa’s growth with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). They currently carry a substantial economic cost, and technological choices in the sector are long-term and have important implications. The share of modern renewables (i.e. solar, wind and geothermal) in Africa’s energy mix currently stands at only 0.4% but is increasing. Solar technologies have some very positive characteristics, but are not yet competitive in all circumstances. Nevertheless, financing for these technologies is increasingly available and production costs are coming down.
Depending on a specific country’s situation, PV and CSP are valuable contributions to the energy mix, with CSP recommendable for more economically advanced countries given its considerably higher cost. African countries should consider well whether to engage in such expensive technology at this point in time given the expected cost-reductions in the medium to long term. PV, on the other hand is already cost-competitive and holds much promise for Africa. While the importance of off-grid PV systems is well-recognized, the discussion in this paper focuses on grid-connected systems that have experienced the greatest expansion. It will be imperative for African countries to develop a conducive environment so as to support the growth of the appropriate kind of solar energy in Africa.

Keywords: Solar power, Concentrated Solar Power (CSP), Photovoltaic (PV), Renewable energy, Africa.

Mbabazi Moyo, J.,  Krüger,R., Belamine D., and von Wachenfelt, A. (2017) "Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) and Photovoltaic (PV): Has time come for solar energy in Africa?" FERDI Working Paper P187, May 2017