In Africa, solar power is a more cost-effective option than natural gas, Carbon Tracker claims

(Ecofin Agency) – While several African leaders have defended the right to exploit the continent’s natural gas reserves during the transition period, a London-based think tank argues that this option is no longer profitable when it comes to developing low-carbon energies.

Independent think tank Carbon Tracker believes in a report published on November 14 that the development of solar energy in Africa is more economically profitable than investments in natural gas and other fossil fuels.

titled ” African Solar: Why Gas, Not Solar, Offers the Continent’s Best Economic Opportunity in Transition “, this report shows that several African countries are seeking to explore and exploit fossil fuels, especially natural gas, to take advantage of high export earnings and meet domestic energy needs, while this strategy is ” very risky “.

The energy crisis caused by the Russia-Ukraine conflict has forced European countries to turn to Africa for natural gas supplies. But this European interest will be short-lived, as the war in Ukraine has fueled efforts by developed countries to wean themselves off fossil fuels. The European Union has actually more than doubled its goals for the share of renewable energies in the energy mix from 22% to 45% by 2030. In this context, the demand for fossil fuels is expected to decrease sharply in the medium term. relying on gas exports to fuel economic growth is a short-term, high-risk strategy “.

A decrease in demand for fossil fuels will lead to lower prices of these polluting fuels at the global level and lower investments by large international hydrocarbon exploitation companies. Thus, by 2040, revenues from gas exports should decrease by more than 50% compared to the current level, the think tank predicts.

Great solar potential

At the same time, the energy security of Africa’s hydrocarbon-producing countries may be compromised given the intrinsic link between investment in field development and the availability of gas for domestic use.

This decline in export earnings and investment in fossil fuel exploitation also poses a risk to fiscal stability due to reduced licenses and consequent tax revenues.

Considering these risks, these risks will increase as developed and developing countries move towards energy transition. it is inevitable and irreversible “, the authors of the report believe that Africa needs to bet more than ever on solar energy to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels and achieve a secure and affordable domestic energy source.

This is all the more possible because the continent has huge solar potential, even though it currently accounts for only 2% of the global installed solar capacity.

Africa has abundant sunshine (more than 8 hours of sunshine per day on average per year).

The continent also has an average annual solar radiation of 2112 kilowatt-hours/m2/year, which is 60% higher than the world average, and an average solar load factor of 17% (+25% compared to the world average).

In addition, Carbon Tracker expects the cost of solar power to drop below $40/megawatt-hour (MWh) by 2030, which would then be cheaper than operating coal and gas-fired power plants on the continent.

In South Africa, electricity from the latest generation of solar power plants is already cheaper than electricity produced by coal-fired power plants ($41/MWh compared to $46/MWh).

On another level, the report shows that the availability of land necessary for the installation of photovoltaic panels is not an obstacle to the development of solar energy in Africa. An area of ​​approximately 309,951 km2, or about 0.3% of the total area of ​​the Sahara desert, would be sufficient to meet the current energy needs of the entire continent through solar energy (874 megatons of oil equivalent/Mtoe). Thus, the report concludes that solar farms are unlikely to compete with agricultural land and negatively impact food security.

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