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Cheap solar set for African boom

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The business case for solar photovoltaics (PV) in Africa is stronger than ever thanks to rapidly declining technology costs, according to a new report released today by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).
“Solar PV in Africa: Costs and Markets” estimates that installed costs for power generated by utility-scale solar PV projects in Africa have decreased as much as 61% since 2012. Today, installed costs for these projects are as low as $1.30 per watt in Africa, compared to the global average of $1.80 per watt.
“In recent years, solar PV costs have dropped dramatically and will continue to do so with further declines of up to 59% possible in the next 10 years,” says IRENA director-general Adnan Amin. “These cost reductions, coupled with vast solar potential on the continent, present a huge opportunity for Africa.
“Both grid-connected and off-grid solar PV now offer a cost-competitive means to meet rising energy needs and bring electricity to the 600-million Africans who currently lack access.”
Mini-grids utilising solar PV and off-grid solar home systems also provide higher quality energy services at the same or lower costs than the alternatives, finds the report.
Standalone solar PV mini-grids have installed costs in Africa as low as $1.90 per watt for systems larger than 200 kilowatts.
Solar home systems – which have tripled in Africa between 2010 and 2014 – provide the annual electricity needs of off-grid households for as little as $56 per year, less than what they currently pay for poor-quality energy services.
Global capacity additions for solar PV have increased six-fold since 2009, a trend that is now beginning to materialise in Africa. More than 800 new megawatts (MW) of solar PV capacity was added in Africa in 2014 – doubling the continents cumulative capacity – and another 750 MW was added in 2015.
IRENA estimates that with the right enabling policies, Africa could be home to more than 70 gigawatts of solar PV capacity by 2030.
“Africa’s solar potential is enormous, with solar irradiation levels up to 117% higher than in Germany – the country with the highest installed solar power capacity,” says Amin. “It has never been more possible, and less expensive for Africa to realise this potential.”