Solar rises as an African energy alternative

A man plugs in a solar panel outside of a buisiness on January 16, 2011 in the town of Yambio, South Sudan.

There’s lots of sunshine in Africa. Now, the trick is putting it to work.

Today, the Solar Central & East Africa Summit kicks off in Nairobi, Kenya. Officials from Tanzania, Mozambique, Angola, Congo and Ethiopia will  network with trade reps from the solar industry.

Many of these African countries are close to the equator, which means plenty of heat. But solar power doesn’t do so well with rain or humidity. Where solar works efficiently in Africa, the industry is starting to heat up.

Alex Klein, research director at IHS, says solar helps meet the need for new sources of energy.

“Because of the significant drop in the cost of solar over the past few years, solar is now competitive as a way to displace some of that oil use for power generation," Klein says. "It can be more cost effective.”

Stephen Mullennix is senior vice president of operations for SolarReserve, which has some solar projects underway in South Africa. He says the company hopes to expand into other African countries.

“If you look at population growth, economic growth, Africa is one of the greatest growth opportunities in the world," Mullennix says. "And that’s sort of across different economic sectors. All of those economic sectors depend on stable available power supply. So that feeds very nicely into what we do."

Banks seem to recognize that economic potential as well.

“Generally, the financial community is looking quite favorably at sub-Saharan Africa and areas of central Africa. So that’s a positive,” says Mullennix.

About the author

Jeff Tyler is a reporter for Marketplace’s Los Angeles bureau, where he reports on issues related to immigration and Latin America.

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