About 70 percent of the population of Sub-Saharan Africa (600 million people) live without electricity. The organizer of the Powering Africa conference in Washington said the U.S. business community is missing an opportunity to get involved.
“I think the interest in U.S. investors is slow and that’s part of the reason why we’re here,” Simon Gosling, Managing Director of EnergyNet Limited said.
In June 2013, President Obama announced his Power Africa initiative to encourage the U.S. private sector to bring electricity to 60 million African homes and businesses.
“Anyone that knows Africa knows that President Obama announcing an initiative is not going to turn the lights on overnight. 18 months, two years, foundations are now laid. Now the investment will start to flow,” Gosling said.
One business from California, SolarReserve, is already there, helping power more than 200,000 homes in South Africa at peak demand periods, using one of the country’s most abundant resources.
“They are choosing to go with solar or wind in some cases. But we think solar’s a great solution, as opposed to building another coal plant or building a nuclear plant or building an oil-fired, diesel-fired facility. And solar is now becoming the most competitive and the lowest priced power in those regions for utility-sized projects that feed into the grid,” Kevin Smith, CEO of SolarReserve said.
SolarReserve is planning another site using mirrors to harness the sun’s rays, storing heat for electricity generation for another 200,000 homes. The company predicts solar will soon make up 50 percent of all new power generation in South Africa.
Big electricity infrastructure projects work well in big African cities. For those millions in remote rural areas, however, solar offers a unique opportunity.
Many solar projects now utilize the low cost benefits of panels in another way, feeding directly into small communities that aren’t connected to the grid. That helps cut down on the use of dirty and dangerous kerosene lamps and diesel generators.
Follow Daniel Ryntjes on Twitter @danielryntjes