Why Solar Energy Means Everything To Africa

Solar panels — and solar energy — are officially cheaper than fossil fuels. That means that forms of fuel that are available on every continent, all over the world are now preferable — even economically — to those resources that can only be found in certain regions, and with the right equipment. The effects of this change are far reaching, and go well beyond the obvious sustainability benefits. By harnessing these resources, third world and struggling countries are able to change their fate, and the one seeing the biggest difference is the most troubled of all: Africa.

Last December, the World Economic Forum reported that solar and wind are now the same price or cheaper than fossil fuel. In the months since, the change has received an increasing amount of press, especially with the growing interest in Tesla’s solar roof tiles, which has jumpstarted the already healthy American market for residential solar panels. Some of that press has included new developments in Africa — and while Tesla’s roof tiles are exciting, they’re simply the tech required to keep up with Africa’s innovations.

Solar Airports

South Africa gets over 2,500 hours of sunshine a year. The country also has airports that are located in the middle of nowhere. In the past few months, the Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) decided to make the most of these two situations, and unveiled three solar powered airports across the country, with three more to be unveiled by 2018.

Currently, solar power contributes about half of the three airports’ power requirement, with the other half drawn from the grid — but the goal is to have airports across the country generating 100 percent of their own power. By doing this, the ACSA will achieve its long-term goal of carbon neutrality by 2025.

Solar Power for All: BBOXX

One of the biggest challenges to bringing Africa’s technology up to speed is making electricity available across the continent. Christopher Baker-Brian, Mansoor Hamayun and Laurent Van Houcke, all former classmates studying electrical and electronics engineering at Imperial College London, set out to fix that problem. Their company, BBOXX, provides solar panels, a battery and long-term support for rural consumers in Africa — all for about $100. Their goal? To light up the entire country, giving each African the ability to communicate, do business and participate in the global economy.

Energy Economy

Generating all of this energy does more than just help Africans keep the lights on and the air pure — it also means that they gain a valuable resource to trade internationally. One of Africa’s biggest trading partners, India, is looking forward to growing the relationship, as Africa increases its participation in the India-led solar organization, International Solar Alliance. The increase in participation is secured with a $2 billion line of credit for African solar development from India.

In addition to global partnerships, the solar energy industry opens up a plethora of opportunities for entrepreneurs, both in Africa and abroad. Because the majority of the continent is in need not only of energy generation, but infrastructure to support that energy, and supply utilities that run off of electricity (namely telephone and internet services), the number of potential businesses that are in demand will only grow with the electrical supply available.

Securing energy is the first step to bringing African nations out of poverty and increasing the level of technology available to the population — and Africa’s leaders know that. With significant investments into the future of solar energy, including key partnerships and modelling behavior from leadership, Africa may well become a global energy leader in the future. For now, the goals are to bring electricity to as many Africans as possible, encourage innovation, and drive aggressive economic growth with solar power.

Lead image credit: SolarAid | Flickr

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AJ Agrawal is an entrepreneur, growth marketer, and management consultant. A frequent traveler, he writes about the marketing lessons he’s picked up while traveling the world. His work has appeared on Fortune, Fast Company, Forbes, and several other publications. Follow AJ on Twitter at @ajagrawal24

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