Africa is an absurdly massive continent. The land mass is large enough that you would put China, India, and the USA within it with room to spare for essentially the most populous nations of Europe. There are 1.2 billion individuals, 55 international locations, lots of of languages, and radical variations in geography.
But it surely’s not a wealthy continent. Sub-Saharan Africa has a poverty price of 41% and 27 of the 28 poorest international locations on the earth are there. Lots of that is because of vitality poverty, and never the type skilled by much less prosperous Europeans through the latest vitality disaster. No, that is actual vitality poverty, the place they don’t have electrical energy of their properties and companies and are continually attempting to find dry biomass to burn for cooking.
I don’t faux to be an knowledgeable on the continent, and even any of the international locations in it. However I’ve some insights, having assessed pumped hydro alternatives in Kenya, inexperienced hydrogen transport from Namibia to Europe, and European hydrogen efforts in three northern African international locations. I introduced at a northern African renewables convention in December of 2022 on the organizers’ request. I’ve plucked on the floor of components of the large continent. And so, I strategy this topic humbly.
The paper is Juxtaposing Sub-Sahara Africa’s vitality poverty and renewable vitality potential. What’s the provenance of the proposal? It’s from a multinational analysis group from Guangdong College of Petrochemical Expertise, the College of Digital Science and Expertise of China, the Cyprus Worldwide College, the Chrisland College in Nigeria, and the College of Sharjah within the UAE. That represents each international and African researchers. It’s within the journal Scientific Studies, a pure sciences analysis sub-publication of Nature with a very good impression issue of 5.516 over 5 years. This isn’t a whimsy, however a strong analysis effort that’s been peer-reviewed.
The proposed transmission grid stretches from Mali and Nigeria in western Africa, by way of Niger, Chad, and Sudan to Ethiopia in japanese Africa, then south by way of Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, Tanzania, and Mozambique earlier than terminating in South Africa on the southern tip of the continent. That’s over 10,000 kilometers of transmission strains protecting some epic terrain, together with quite a lot of desert and crossing the Nice Rift Valley at the very least as soon as. That’s 40% of the gap across the equator. This isn’t a trivial proposal.
What was their strategy? They used the EnergyPLAN simulator, developed and maintained by the Sustainable Power Planning Analysis Group at Aalborg College, Denmark. It simulates the operation of nationwide vitality methods on an hourly foundation, together with the electrical energy, heating, cooling, business, and transport sectors. A big a part of the intent for the event of the simulator, which was first launched in 2000, was to help within the design of 100% renewable nationwide vitality methods — hourly vitality demand and provide for 12 international locations for a 12 months at a time. The simulator had been used extensively throughout African international locations and areas previous to this software, so it’s a properly examined mannequin and a useful gizmo to simulate this huge proposal. There are limitations with the capabilities of the simulation which they name out clearly, largely concerning the variety of pumped hydro services and the variety of international locations that may have what technology, which they did discover and iterate by way of to reach on the outcomes. Once more, non-trivial.
What eventualities did they think about? It was an iterative course of with electrical automobile demand, pumped hydro storage, onshore wind, and photo voltaic photovoltaic in various proportions. There have been six totally different eventualities modeled and analyzed contemplating 2030 and 2040 because the focused implementation years, and with various mixes of the technology and storage capacities in several international locations. This was an enormous, properly thought-about effort on the group’s half. Three eventualities had been single-generation applied sciences solely with onshore wind and concentrating solar energy (CSP), whereas three had been hybrids of the applied sciences.
Why CSP was modeled was an attention-grabbing query given its failure to ship on its guarantees in comparison with photovoltaic over the previous 30 years. The research’s argument is that in very popular international locations, photovoltaic underperforms, giving an edge to CSP. Maybe.
Together with battery electrical autos, the research discovered the overall electrical energy demand to be 700 TWh/yr and 800 TWh/yr for 2030 and 2040 respectively. On an hourly base, that equates to an influence demand vary from 40 GW to 120 GW at numerous troughs and peaks. Their resolution modeled all twelve international locations for a 12 months of energy based mostly on meteorological wind and photo voltaic data, and modeled vitality storage and flows between international locations. The geographic ranges cowl three to 4 of the six time zones in Africa, in addition to important north-south variance, permitting for peaks and troughs of demand and manufacturing to be lined over a really giant expanse, decreasing incidences of lack of accessible energy.
This research averted one of many main failings of many research of renewables from the previous three a long time, which was choosing an arbitrarily slim geographical expanse resembling an American state or European nation, limiting or ignoring interconnects, after which declaring that renewables couldn’t probably work. A geographically broad grid with robust transmission allows bringing quite a lot of electrical energy from the place it occurs to be generated to the place it’s in demand, and allows large-scale storage to be situated in strategic positions to supply balancing.
Unsurprisingly, the research discovered that the most cost effective system which might meet the demand profiles had a mixture of renewable technology applied sciences and grid storage towards the excessive finish of the modeled ranges. The crucial extra electrical energy manufacturing that might require curtailment of technology sources was diminished, however not eradicated. As a facet notice, the research assessed the potential for hydrogen technology with simply the surplus electrical energy within the eventualities.
The final level is that the eventualities included ones the place present fossil gas technology crops had been excluded from consideration and included. Clearly, system prices and renewables curtailment dropped when fossil crops had been offering peak demand and backup, and that’s a way more reasonable state of affairs for 2030 and 2040. Working present coal and fuel crops fewer and fewer hours yearly is the trail to 100% renewables, not pretending that they don’t exist and never exploiting them.
Prices for all of this vary broadly, from virtually US$3 trillion for the CSP-only state of affairs, to the totally hybrid resolution with fossil gas crops at beneath US$500 billion. A renewables-only resolution with low storage capacities was within the vary of US$1 trillion.
So, if that is solely a analysis research that’s modeling out a hypothetical supergrid for Sub-Saharan Africa, why ought to we take it significantly? Effectively, the research was led by Chinese language analysis institutes, and China’s Belt & Street Initiative (BRI) is lively in 44 of the 46 international locations within the area. Additional, whereas the BRI continues to be constructing much more coal and fuel technology than renewables, it has eradicated new coal crops from its consideration, and the share of renewables and transmission initiatives is rising 12 months by 12 months.
Not too long ago, I used to be speaking with Chinese language enterprise executives about Europe’s decarbonization methods. A query that emerged within the dialogue portion of the two.5 hour lecture was “What can China do to speed up international decarbonization to fulfill warming targets?” One among my solutions was that it might decide to constructing huge quantities of wind, photo voltaic, storage, and transmission as a part of the BRI. I see this research as a part of a method on China’s half to ship the vitality financial system of the longer term in Sub-Saharan Africa, bringing the area out of vitality poverty over the approaching a long time.
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