Why solar presents a bright future for East Africa
Power-hungry East Africa East Africa needs power, and to be specific, it needs more consistent, reliable sources of power. Relying on diesel generators is financially and environmentally unsustainable, even in those circumstances where they are only used for backup. Bright sun and falling solar prices has made solar competitive with the grid, meaning that solar is a key technological ally for governments wanting lower cost power supplies for their citizens and businesses. Throughout East Africa, national power infrastructure needs massive investment to turn it into a modern reliable network, capable of supplying enough power to meet demand. Inevitably this also means that new sources of supply need to be found. The engineering challenge is on a continental scale and it is clear East Africa needs new power solutions, and fast. With solar, those solutions are here already. Companies no longer have to wait for upgrades to the electricity system to provide more reliable power. Businesses are purchasing solar panels and combining them with energy storage to provide more reliable, more locally sourced and lower cost power than an intermittent grid or a diesel generator can provide. Businesses are also waking up to the possibilities afforded by a decentralised energy network, with solar and wind systems feeding clean energy into the grid, these technologies often complimenting each other. Pioneering businesses recognise that this approach allows for far more flexibility in the grid than relying on a handful of centrally located large power plants. Aside from the need for consistent power, countries are of course looking to move away from fossil fuels because of the negative impacts of carbon on the environment and the ravages of unchecked climate change. Factories and cars belching out fumes also pose a huge air quality risk, as well as being major contributors to our changing climate.
This spurred virtually every country in the World to sign up to the Paris Climate Agreement in December 2015. Governments committed to replace fossil fuels almost entirely by clean energy in the second half of this century. East Africa can set an example to the world in how development can be accelerated using cheap renewable energy to support business, a win-win for both the climate and our economy. Innovations in solar technology are advancing rapidly, with solar integrated in the built environment in a variety of ways. The solar carport on the roof of Nairobi's Garden City Mall built by Solarcentury, which was connected in September 2015, is an early example of what is possible in our urban centres. As well as providing shade for car parking spaces, the system enables the Mall to be powered completely by solar electricity during daylight hours. Solar uptake is increasing across East Africa but in truth the huge potential of the technology in our region remains largely untapped. There is no question that solar is already delivering, from small domestic systems on roofs powering homes, to much larger multi-megawatt systems on the ground or on factory roofs supplying solar energy to businesses. These early examples of what is possible should point the way forwards for policy makers and businesses in Kenya and throughout the region, to ensure a more diversified, reliable, cost-effective and robust energy mix fit for the 21st century. Mr Lawrence, is the Director for Solarcentury in East Africa
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