Solar energy: African economies’ secret weapon
Thursday, June 27, 2013
FORTUNE — In the developed world, electricity is cheap and as available as the nearest outlet. But in off-the-grid Africa, energy poverty is endemic. Car batteries are tapped to charge mobile phones. Kerosene is a popular light source — as well as a dirty, dangerous one.
With national grid expansion lagging well behind growth in demand, increasingly Africans are looking not to centralized, fossil fuel-based solutions, but to the sun.
To date, solar power plays only an auxiliary role in Africa’s energy mix, but growth in solar use is emblematic of a regional shift toward renewables. In 2004, the African renewable energy sector was valued at $750 million. By 2011, it reached $3.6 billion. Late last year, the U.N. projected that by 2020 the value of the African renewable energy sector would reach $57 billion.
Solar is particularly well-suited to sunny, equatorial Central and East Africa, where, in the words of one entrepreneur, “energy is every day beating people on the head.” In recent years, the region has become a haven for renewable energy, spearheaded by small, tech-savvy companies keen to capitalize on the global south’s hunger for energy.