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Executive summary

Africa has substantial solar potential but available estimates of energy use in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) indicate limited use of modern solar energy technologies.  In 1990, the World Energy Congress, estimated that excluding large-scale hydro, modern renewable sources of energy accounted for less than 2% of the regionís primary energy demand.  Modern solar energy would probably account for a fraction of the 2% that is currently attributed to modern renewable energy.

Inadequate access to sufficient levels of modern energy services is one of the key problems facing  SSA.  Access to electricity in the region in 1990 was 38% and 8% in urban and rural areas respectively.  This is low compared to an average of 76% and 33% for urban and rural areas respectively in developing countries.  In Mali, only 4% of the population have access to electricity. In Ethiopia and Botswana, only 1% and 3%, respectively, of the rural population have access to electricity.  A more worrying statistic is that the growth rate of household connections is lower than the population and household growth rate, indicating that the absolute proportion of the population without electricity is increasing.  Until the late 1980s, only seven countries had an installed capacity exceeding 1 gigawatt and only eight countries in 1991 consumed more than 1 TWh per annum.

In the foreseeable future, connection to the national electric grid for many rural eastern and southern Africa communities is unlikely to occur because of the difficult and distant terrain that has to be traversed by main grid distribution networks.  This is compounded by low populations living in scattered homesteads.

As a result of the persistently poor performance of centralised power systems and patent inability to extend electricity to rural households, many energy analysts perceive decentralised rural electrification options such as solar photovoltaics  (PV) as the most feasible options for bringing the benefits of modern energy services to the large majority of rural inhabitants.  A survey undertaken in the SADC region indicated a large market potential for PV systems ranging from 72 MWp for the business-as-usual scenario to 242 MWp for a pro-active scenario in which electrification programmes are pursued aggressively.

A recently completed Regional RETs Study by AFREPREN/FWD-SEI recommended the initiation of long-term renewable energy training and capacity building programmes to overcome the barriers facing the dissemination of solar PV technology in the region.  The World Solar Programme (WSP), a UNESCO initiative aims at promoting and harmonizing cooperation in renewable energy  training and research; and, demonstrating how wide-scale use of solar energy is cost-effective and rapid option for developing countries.  Within the context of the above initiatives, UNESCO and  AFREPREN/FWD organised a RETs/Solar training workshop for African rural development project officers and managers.  The workshop focussed  largely on PV and solar water heaters  for use mainly in the rural household market. 

On 7th-10th September, 1998, AFREPREN/FWD in conjunction with UNESCO conducted a Solar Energy Training Workshop in Nairobi, Kenya as part of a joint regional study on RETs Applied Research and Training for Africa.  The subject Workshop brought together a wide range of participants that included, field technicians, manufacturers, Government officials, representatives of NGOs and credit/finance agencies, and to a lesser extent researchers and field extension workers. 

The five-day Workshop, which included two field visits, covered the following:

  • Introduction of participants to the fundamentals of key renewable energy technologies;

  • Dissemination of the findings and conclusions of the recently concluded study entitled "Renewable Energy Technologies: Research for Dissemination and Implementation";

  • Review of the status and technical challenges facing the development of solar PV and solar water heater technologies in Eastern and Southern Africa; and,

  • Discussions on the activities of the RETs project and insights on how the activities can be refined for maximum impact.

Participants to the Workshop were drawn from Kenya, Ghana, Uganda, Zambia and Zanzibar, South Africa and Rwanda. 

The Workshop identified the following as key priority issues for Applied Research on photovoltaics (PVs) and solar water heaters (SWHs):

i. Training  on low cost assembly and manufacturing techniques

ii. Compilation of a market assessment report and development of locally made and cheap solar pathfinders

iii. Compilation of best regional practices/Ethics manual for system sizing and specification

iv. Compilation of case examples of experiences of country testing centres for solar energy technologies.

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