Advances in solar technology promotes sustainable energy quest


To underscore the importance of sustainable energy, the United Nations adopted it as the seventh item on its sustainable development goals to be achieved in 2030.

It therefore sets a target that 2013, it will ensure universal access to affordable, reliable and modern energy services, increase substantially the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix, double the global rate of improve in energy efficiency, facilitate access to clean energy research and technology and expand infrastructure upgrade technology for supply modern and sustainable energy services especially for developing countries.

Sustainable energy refers to an energy system that serves current needs without threatening the ability of future generation to meet their own needs. It is consumed at insignificant rates compared to its supply and with manageable collateral effects especially on the environment.

Harnessing the power of the sun

In view of what sustainable energy is and set to achieve, the sun qualifies as the most vibrant sustainable energy sources.

Columbian university professor, Stephen Lawrence wrote of the sun: “Containing more than 99.8 percent of the total mass of the Solar System, the Sun is by far the largest object in the Solar System. 109 Earths would be required to even fit across the Sun’s disk, and the Sun’s interior could hold over 1.3 million Earths.

“Within the core of the Sun, the temperature (15,000,000 K) and pressure (340 billion times Earth’s air pressure at sea level) of it is so intense that nuclear reactions actually take place. The Sun’s energy output, produced by these nuclear fusion reactions, is approximately 3.86e33 ergs/second or 386 billion megawatts.

“The process that takes this energy to the surface of the sun following complex stages is called convection. This energy, released as heat as well as light, takes a million years to reach the surface.

“Existing for about 4 and a half billion years, it has burnt up about half of the hydrogen in its core. This leaves the Sun’s life expectancy to 5 billion more years, at which time, the Sun’s elements will “swell” up, swallow Earth, and eventually die off into a small white dwarf.

These characteristics make the sun most suitable to serve as sustainable energy resource. Yet very few African countries are making needed investments in solar energy. When they do, it appears like an afterthought, often to make up for inadequate power in rural areas.

Investments in solar energy in Africa

There has been a spike in investments in solar energy in Africa driven largely by cheaper products and innovative business models in solar technology at utility scale and solar to home solutions.

Also technology costs have dropped enhancing competitiveness of prices, increased investment through creative initiatives like the ‘Power Africa’ of the United States, and African governments creating favourable conditions for investments in renewable energies.

For example through the Power Africa initiative In February 2015, Gigawatt Global (GWG) commissioned an 8.5 MW grid-connected solar power plant in a residential community farm east of the Rwandan capital Kigali.

The project represents the first utility-scale solar facility in East Africa adding 6 percent to Rwanda’s total energy generation capacity.

Recognizing that Power Africa cannot achieve energy access goals through the use of large grid extension projects alone, Power Africa launched Beyond the Grid in June 2014, a sub-initiative focused on unlocking investment and growth for off-grid and small-scale energy solutions on the African continent. These off-grids, small-scale energy solutions can more reliably, rapidly, and cost-effectively bring power to communities that may not otherwise get access to the traditional grid.

These solutions also generate more economic opportunity as creative small and medium enterprises develop and operate off grid and small scale technologies in their communities to serve the energy needs for Africa’s rural poor.

Beyond the Grid is partnering with more than 40 investors and practitioners that have committed to invest more than $1 billion into off-grid and small-scale solutions over the next five years. MCC is using its resources to increase its off-grid activities, and has incorporated into its upcoming Benin Power Compact an off-grid program that is expected to bring innovative business models and technologies to increase electricity access using renewable energy resources.

Advanced technologies, smart solutions

Developments in the solar power industry both on grid and off-grid solutions is getting increasingly less sophisticated, cleaner, simpler and more efficient. There are now built-in micro inverters hidden behind panels to ensure power optimization and conversation happens at source minimizing shading and light disruptions.

Some systems are installed with facility for real-time data gathering on the system’s solar production and home energy use. There are also smaller bits home solar options measured in kilowatts and wattages that give you options for those on a limited budget. For locations with limited sunlight, some solar options have been designed to maximize output based on limited available sunlight.

There are more nuanced solutions. AORA Solar company last year announced that it will begin construction of its solar-biogas power plants in Ethiopia. Ethiopia’s Minister of Water, Irrigation and Energy stated that” AORA’s unique solar-hybrid technology is impressive and well-suited to provide both energy and heat to support local economic development in off-grid rural locations in Ethiopia.”

A German company Rawlemon, owned by architect Andre Brossel has created a spherical sun power generator called the beta.ray which has a  technology that combines spherical geometry principles with a dual axis tracking system, allowing twice the yield of a conventional solar panel in a much smaller surface area.

Beta.ray process Source

Off-grid interventions are needed in Africa to address the shortfall in energy generation as most areas especially in the rural areas are not connected to the national grid. Worse still transmission infrastructures in many African countries are weak and unable to carry and deliver energy allocated to distribution networks. This perhaps makes the strongest case for the adoption of solar energy.


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