Navigant Research Blog

Distributed Solar PV Poised to Reach Its Potential in Africa

— December 9, 2014

According to the International Monetary Fund, 7 of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies are located in Africa.  While Cairo, Egypt, was the only city in Africa to have a population exceeding 10 million in 2010, seven cities across Africa are expected to achieve this level by 2040.  Rapid urbanization means that more than 100 African cities are projected to exceed 1 million inhabitants by 2040.  Such levels of urbanization and economic growth have forced local utilities to acquire new, primarily large-scale power projects.  Utilities are primarily calling for large scale natural gas power plants and renewable energy projects (led by solar PV and wind),  as evidenced by the booming South African renewables market.

Over time, however, there will be growing opportunity for smaller-scale distributed renewable energy projects in the 1 kW to 1 MW range.  Growth in this power class is led by government agencies that are electrifying health clinics and schools, often with international donor support. This is likely going to continue to be the case for at least the next 5 years. According to Navigant Research’s report, Global Distributed Generation Deployment Forecast, annual capacity additions of distributed solar PV in Africa are expected to grow from 10.9 MW in 2014 to 56.5 MW in 2023.  Agriculture, hotels, extraction industries, water pumping, telecom applications, and growing consumer markets in Africa will result in distributed solar PV growth across the region.  Cumulative distributed solar installed capacity during this time will reach 332.2 MW, representing less than 5% of the total installed solar PV capacity in Africa in 2023.

Immense Opportunity

Urban residential will be the last segment to catch on in urban African communities, primarily due to the combination of a small middle class, a lack of awareness among potential customers, and a lack of financing options.  Several experienced engineering firms, particularly in Kenya, are targeting distributed solar customer segments.  And while there is significant buzz about microgrids in the region, in particular, these projects have not yet developed at the anticipated rate.  That will change if innovative companies, such as PowerHive, Access Energy, and PowerGen, are able to successfully scale up current microgrid efforts and attract further investment.  In Kenya, there are a number of creative mid-sized projects, including solar-wind hybrid systems, ranging from 10 kW to 300kW.  In general, the opportunity for distributed renewables is immense, and the field is wide open – provided companies (and investors) are patient enough to deal with potentially problematic African bureaucracies.

Patient Yet Determined

The engineering firms and developers offering these solutions are working with utilities and regulators to create a more conducive environment for this small-to-mid-scale market segment in urban and off-grid settings.  Compared to utility-scale installations by larger international companies that hire workers for a short period and do not have a continued presence, the distributed market segment will have the most impact from a job creation and sustainable development perspective.

These companies tend to be staffed with very determined people who have made progress in very uncertain and often frustrating circumstances.  They’re becoming more organized and lobbying for a more favorable regulatory environment – including more robust net metering policies, feed-in tariffs, and, in general, more freedom to operate.

Equally critical, however, is education among financiers (and customers) on how to finance small-to-mid-sized solar PV systems.  Similar to the diversity among U.S. state policy and public utility commissions, pathways for growth will differ for each country in Africa.  Those that are willing to stay the course and weather the frustrations of operating in uncertain political and regulatory environments stand to profit  and, in the process, contribute to the establishment of the local industry over the long term.

 

In Germany, a Small Town Becomes an Energy Dynamo

— December 8, 2014

A small town in Germany has become a symbol of what is possible for renewable energy and of the challenges it presents to the traditional utility model.  Wildpoldsried, in southern Bavaria, produces 500% more energy than it needs.  The town of approximately 2,600 people does this through solar, wind, biogas, and hydro systems and a healthy dose of government subsidies.

The transformation of the town’s energy use enabled it to produce all of its electricity well before the target date of 2020.  The excess energy, however, presented the regional utility, Allgäuer Überlandwerke GmbH (AÜW), with a problem: How to integrate the surplus renewable energy into the wider grid? So the utility partnered with Siemens on a project called the Integration of Regenerative Energy and Electrical Mobility (IRENE).  Using sensors throughout the town’s energy systems, operators are able to measure various levels of current, voltage, and frequency, and then a self-organizing automation system balances supply and demand to stabilize the grid.  In addition, local homeowners who have energy-producing systems (e.g., solar PV) are now prosumers, and each has a small device that controls how much power is sold back to the grid and at what minimum price, creating, in effect, a small-scale distributed energy resource market that feeds into the larger grid.

Cars, Solar PV, & the Grid

Wildpoldsried is not alone in attempts to modernize and create a more efficient grid.  In the wake of the March 2011 Fukushima disaster, officials in Japan have been wrestling with how to create more sustainable cities.  The Japan Smart City initiative includes projects in Yokohama, Toyota City, Keihanna (Kyoto), and Kitakyushu.  In Yokohama, for instance, one of the trials involves a home energy management system provided by Panasonic that integrates solar PV systems with battery storage.  In another trial, automaker Nissan has been testing a vehicle-to-home system, in which electrical power is furnished to homes from the batteries mounted in electric vehicles. (For more on these types of vehicle-grid integration projects, please attend Navigant Research’s free webinar, Electric Vehicles and the Grid, on February 10, 2015, at 2 p.m. ET.  Click here to register.)

Net Zero

Similarly, in the United States, California continues to be a bellwether for renewable energy and sustainability.  The state’s Zero Net Energy (ZNE) policy requires all new residential construction to be ZNE by 2020; a ZNE home is one that produces as much renewable, grid-tied energy onsite, such as from a solar PV system, as it uses during a calendar year.  Homebuilder KB Homes has constructed such a zero-net home in the Sacramento area that features a rooftop solar PV system with battery storage, an advanced greywater recycling system, triple-pane windows, and heavy duty insulation.  In the city of Lancaster, builders are offering similar types of ZNE homes as that city attempts to become a leader in alternative energy.

What Wildpoldsried and these other cities demonstrate is that through technology, regulations, and cooperation with utilities, a smarter and eco-friendly grid is possible.  For skeptics, these are real world examples of what is possible.  Yes, this can mean disruption of current business models.  But it does not have to mean destruction.  As noted in Navigant Research’s free white paper, Smart Grid: 10 Trends to Watch in 2015 and Beyond, these and other smart grid trends are expected to unfold in the coming years, and stakeholders must adapt to this transforming energy landscape.

 

Renewable Energy Grows, Large and Small, in Africa

— December 8, 2014

More than two-thirds of the population of Sub-Saharan Africa has no access to electricity – a figure that rises to more than 85% of those living in rural areas.  Those that do enjoy electricity pay some of the highest rates in the world.  Now, though, the opportunity for renewable energy investment in Africa is finally being realized.  Renewable energy growth in Africa has typically been due to investment in large hydropower plants.  The new wave of investment is now happening across the spectrum – including in utility-scale solar PV, wind, geothermal projects (greater than 10 MW in size), and pico solar systems (under 100W) that encompass solar lanterns, task lights, and solar home systems for people who typically earn less than a few dollars per day.

Beyond Johannesburg

At the utility scale, the leading country in Africa for renewable energy deployment is South Africa, where the government’s integrated resource plan may result in nearly 10 GW of solar PV installed by 2030.  With nearly 1.5 GW of solar PV and 2 GW of wind currently installed or in development, following four well-administered auctions, the country is making strong progress.

Kenya, arguably the next leading market, has 750 MW of solar PV and 290 MW of wind approved and in development.  South Africa and Kenya have both seen strong economic growth over the past decade and are typically the landing points for new companies looking to expand in the region.  The opportunity for large-scale renewable energy investment is now expanding to other African countries through similar mandates for integrating large amounts of renewable energy as part of their overall strategies for increasing electrification rates and meeting demand for power that’s crucial for economic development:

  • Rwanda: An 8.5 MW solar PV installation was built by GigaWatt Global Rwanda in Agahozo Shalom Youth Village for $23 million ($2.70/W); in addition, the government has set a 567 MW target for new renewable energy installed capacity by 2017.
  • Tanzania: The government of Tanzania has a renewable energy target of 14% by 2015.
  • Mauritania: 15 MW of solar PV have been installed, and 15 MW are in development.  The government has targeted 40% rural electrification by 2020.
  • Ethiopia: A 20 MW module assembly line was completed in partnership with Sky Energy.
  • Ghana: The government is targeting 10% renewable energy by 2020.

At the Pico Scale

Of course, there will be challenges along the way in executing these targets and ensuring a fair and transparent process for bidding on projects in these countries.  But if the majority of major announcements are realized in the next 6 years, the African solar PV market could see more than 8 GW installed and $23 billion in revenue by 2020.

On the pico solar side, Navigant Research’s report, Solar Photovoltaic Consumer Products, forecasts that the pico solar and solar home system market could surpass 130 MW in annual installations in Africa by 2018, resulting in revenue in the neighborhood of $500 million.  Kenya is the leader here, as well, expected to account for approximately 20% of the African market followed by Tanzania.  Venture investment is now flowing to so-called social enterprises that use for-profit business models to reach reduce poverty and spread electrification.  Pay-as-you-go and mobile phone-based payment systems are expected to be the key to enabling pico solar to scale effectively.

The success of several leading companies – such as D.Light, Barefoot Power, Green Light Planet, M-KOPA, and others – has led to a crowded market in Kenya, in particular, and the need to expand to new markets, including Malawi, Zambia, Rwanda, Uganda, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe, is increasingly on the radar.

Taken together, impressive growth in utility-scale renewables and of pico solar systems in Africa shows that developing countries can forge their own paths, achieving the benefits of electricity without becoming dependent on large, polluting thermal power plants.

 

Plummeting Gas Prices Raise Another Hurdle to Meeting CAFE Standards

— December 1, 2014

National average gasoline prices have continued to slide in the United States, down more than 10% from the same time last year.  This marks the first time in nearly 4 years that a gallon of gas has been so cheap.  While undoubtedly great news for the average consumer, who could be saving $10 to $20 per trip to the gas station, the same cannot be said for the hybrid and electric vehicle (EV) industry ‑ and, perhaps surprisingly, the auto industry at large.

Automakers in the United States are being pressed to meet increasingly stringent fuel economy requirements, organized under Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards.  CAFE requires new passenger cars, light duty trucks, and medium duty passenger vehicles to meet an estimated combined average fuel economy of 34.1 mpg in model year 2016 and 54.5 mpg by 2025 (compared to the 24.8 mpg new-car average fuel economy in 2013).  In order to meet these requirements, automakers will need to sell significant amounts of plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) and hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs).  However, a drop in the price of gasoline will surely affect the sale of all types of EVs, as the connection between gas prices and EV sales is well-documented.

How Long Can They Last?

Lower gas prices simply reduce one of the main advantages of electric cars: operating costs.  If consumers aren’t saving enough money by charging their vehicle with electricity versus fueling with gas, significantly fewer consumers will be willing to deal with the extra upfront costs and charging requirements of EVs.

Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing have largely been given credit for decreasing gasoline prices in the United States.  These new techniques, as controversial as they are, have transformed the country into the world’s leading petroleum producerAccording to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), America’s domestic oil production grew from 5.6 million barrels per day (bbl/d) in 2011 to 7.4 million bbl/d in 2013 and is forecast to reach 9.5 million bbl/d in 2015.  These signs point indicate that low gas prices could persist, barring any major disasters in the Middle East.

Possible Rollbacks

The U.S. government is poised to review the CAFE standards in 2017.  If gas prices stay below $3 a gallon over the next few years, regulators may have to consider either rolling back the CAFE requirements or giving the automakers more time to reach them.  The same logic holds true for the zero emissions vehicle (ZEV) states.  Eight states have signed on to introduce at least 3.3 million plug-in vehicles and hydrogen fuel cell EVs to their collective roads by 2025.  Forcing automakers to sell a specific quantity of ZEVs will become even more difficult if consumers see the economic advantages of ZEV operating costs quickly diminishing.  Ultimately, if long-term crude prices remain below $80 per barrel, regulators will be forced to become more innovative in their strategies to decarbonize the transportation sector.  Meeting emissions objectives may need to include mandates to address the fuel itself through the addition of more biofuels or refining gasoline and diesel fuels to be more efficient.

 

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