Empires of the Sun

May 15, 2015

Solar power is cleaner, and now it’s even cheaper than many fossil fuel-sourced alternatives. African solar projects are generating global attention and huge investor interest.

Africa is chronically underpowered. At 143 GW of electricity generation capacity for the entire continent in 2012, Africa has about as much installed capacity as Italy and Greece combined. Yet the continent has some of the world’s largest renewable energy resources, including hydropower, geothermal, solar and wind. In 2015, investors and governments are finally able to realize this potential and solar energy is at the forefront of an African renewable energy surge.

Solar power is already proving its potential. In Mauritania, solar energy provides 30 percent of Nouakchott’s power, and its share is rising. In Tunisia, the TuNur project is seeking funding to provide 2 GW of power to the European grid. South Africa brought the continent’s two largest solar projects online in November and December.

African nations benefit from an abundance of land, as well as an abundance of sunshine, making solar a cost-effective solution to the continent’s increasing power demand.

Generating power from the sun is getting cheaper. The amount of power produced is determined by the number of photovoltaic (PV) modules that can be installed on an area of land. Previously, the cost of installing power was determined mainly by the cost of the modules, but as prices have tumbled, the cost of land has become a determining factor. African nations benefit from an abundance of land, as well as an abundance of sunshine, making solar a cost-effective solution to the continent’s increasing power demand.

ABC takes a look at some of Africa’s most remarkable solar energy projects that are already underway in 2015.


Africa’s largest solar power project is in South Africa’s Northern Cape province, and uses 325,360 PV modules to produce 96 MW, powering about 80,000 homes. Jasper was built at a cost of $260 million, with Google providing some of the equity in its first Africa renewables deal. Jasper’s developers, SolarReserve, Kensani Group and Intikon Energy, are also building two more large solar arrays in South Africa, Letsatsi and Lesedi. The two additional plants will generate 75 MW each. South Africa, which has suffered rolling blackouts since 2008, aims to install 8.4 GW of solar capacity by 2030.


In January, South Africa’s Department of Energy announced two more solar facilities for Northern Cape. Redstone and Kathu, with planned capacity of 100 MW each, will be able to store power generated in daylight hours using concentrated solar power technology. Kathu Solar Park will be built by a GDF SUEZ-led consortium. Its molten salt storage system allows for 4.5 hours of energy storage. SolarReserve and ACWA Power’s Redstone Solar Thermal project will begin producing energy in 2018. Its molten salt technology will use a tower configuration (a first in Africa) and will discharge power over 12 hours.


Ghana plans to generate 10 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2020 and the Nzema solar project will significantly enhance its green energy profile. At 155 MW, Nzema will be Africa’s largest PV facility, if completed by its mid-2015 target. Land for the $350-million project has already been acquired at Asiamah in the Western Region and the developers – Mere Power and Blue Energy – plan to utilize 630,000 PV modules for the installation. Nzema will be hooked up to the West Africa Power Pool, enabling electricity exports to Ghana’s neighbors.


The Ouarzazate concentrated solar power project is a big part of Morocco’s bid to install 2 GW of solar power by 2020. The project, led by ACWA Power, is already underway, with the first 160 MW phase set to deliver power by the end of 2015. Another two phases will bring capacity to 500 MW, enough to produce 18 percent of Morocco’s electricity. At €1.7 billion for Ouarzazate phases II and III, installing solar power is a sizeable investment, but with Morocco’s a heavy reliance on fuel imports and power demand rising at 7 percent annually, solar makes sound economic sense.