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The Case for De-Emphasizing PV in Renewable Energy Strategies for Rural Africa

Stephen Karekezi

Director

African Energy Policy Research Network/Foundation for Woodstove Dissemination (AFREPREN/FWD), Elgeyo Marakwet Close, P.O. Box 30979, 001000 GPO, Nairobi, Kenya. Tel: +254-20-3866032 or 3871467; Fax: +254-20-3861464; E-mail: stephenk@africaonline.co.ke or skarekezi@form-net.com; Web-site: www.AFREPREN/FWD.org  


Abstract

Conventional wisdom on how to bring modern energy to the poor of sub-Saharan Africa often perceives photovoltaic renewable energy as the most attractive option. It is argued that PV technology is ideal for the dispersed rural households of Africa and is, in the long-term, a cheaper option than conventional grid-based electricity. Many national renewable and rural energy strategies give priority to the dissemination of PV technology.

As a result, substantial financing in the form of grants and credit has been provided to various initiatives disseminating PV technologies in rural Africa. Experience to date has, however, been below expectations. Using case study information from various African countries, this paper examines the reasons for the slow dissemination of PV technology in sub-Saharan Africa and provides reasons why other renewable energy technologies should be given greater prominence in future national renewable energy strategies.

In addition to very high up-front cost, PV technologies have several drawbacks. The most important are the low power applications of most affordable PV systems. PV is often used for light load end-uses such as lighting, refrigeration and powering radios.  With the exception of minor activities such as lighting for rural shops, bars and recharging of batteries, PV is rarely used for substantial income generation activities such as agro-processing which offer, in many respects, the most important opportunities for generating income and creating jobs in rural Africa.

This paper argues that future national renewable energy strategies in sub-Saharan Africa should de-emphasize PV and give greater prominence to a wider range of renewables that offer more attractive opportunities for income generation, job creation and provide more lucrative linkages to the local economy and technological capacity.

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