Business News of 2014-07-15

Solar dream can happen if…

Ghana can boost the uptake of solar energy if it does more research to inform its adoption, builds the capacity of manufacturers and installers, and subsidises the high cost involved, Dr. Francis Boateng Agyenim, a solar expert, has said.

“I think we are ready. What we need at the moment is research. Most Ghanaians do not know how much energy is consumed in their homes. We need research to be able to tell us our consumption,” he said at a two-day workshop in Accra to train electrical engineers from the 10 regions on how to install solar Photo Voltaic (PV) systems.

“We need guidance on temperature, which has a large effect on the performance of the system. We have to do research to come out with our own installation guide and know at what angle we install, and how we control dust and clean the system. This way, I think solar uptake can be faster.”

He said the second factor is the expensive cost of solar energy, and called for government subsidies to make it affordable.

“In most countries the power generated by solar is subsidised. The idea of net metering and feed-in tariffs, which the government is trying to introduce, is very important because if I am about to generate lots of energy but I cannot use all of it, I can feed it into the grid and be paid some amount of money -- which possibly would be higher than the normal rate.”

He added that despite the expensive outlay required, solar in the long-term is cheaper and more reliable than current energy sources.

Only 0.1 percent (2.5 megawatts) of Ghana’s current power generation comes from solar. The majority is from hydro (55.5 percent) while the rest is produced by power plants run by the Volta River Authority (VRA) and Independent Power Producers (IPPs).

The country is capable of producing a combined 2,846.5 megawatts from these sources, but actual output is currently below-capacity because of fuel-supply problems and the unavailability of some plants undergoing maintenance.

Electricity demand is around 2,000 megawatts and growing at close to 10 percent per annum. The government is targetting to increase the share of renewables in total electricity production to 10 percent by 2020.

Earlier this year, Mere Power Nzema Limited -- a company owned by Blue Energy, a UK-based renewable energy investor -- announced that it will build a 155-megawatt solar plant over the next two years.

The plant will be able to provide electricity to more than 100,000 homes and increase electricity generating capacity by 6 percent.

The company has signed a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with the Electricity Company of Ghana (ECG) and will site the US$320million facility near the villages of Awiaso and Akpandue in the Ellembelle district of the Western Region.

Project Director Paul Forjoe said the project is expected to begin in September this year, pending a government guarantee for the sale of the output to ECG. The Public Utilities Regulatory Commission (PURC) has already approved tariff rates for power produced from renewables.

Dr. Agyenim said companies like Mere Power Nzema and Tradeworks, another solar company which plans to manufacture and install panels in the country, will not just be manufacturing for consumption in Ghana but can also export the technology to the sub-region.

He added that the country shouldn’t look at only solar photo voltaic, which generates electricity, but also solar thermal systemsthat generate heat for hot water in hospitals and preliminary heating of power plants.

“These are possible, but we haven’t done much work in this regard. We also have solar air conditioning, which is going to be very important and does not rely on solar PV. It generates solar heat through absorption and converts it through evaporation for cooling.”

The 50 engineers who attended the workshop in Accra came from Ghana Technology University College, VRA, ECG, Ministry of Energy, Energy Commission and Ghana Electrical Contractors Association.

Dr. Agyenim, who is also the Dean of GTUC’s graduate school, said as a technological institute that believes in industrial partnerships, GTUC is taking the lead in developing systems applicable to the environment, and that the workshop is a step in pushing the solar power agenda forward.

Source: B&FT
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