Ghana solar energy plant set to be Africa's largest

PV solar panels turn heat into electricity

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A UK firm has announced plans to build what it claims is the biggest photovoltaic (PV) solar power plant in Africa.

The Nzema project, based in Ghana, will be able to provide electricity to more than 100,000 homes.

Construction work on the $400m (£248m) plant is due to start within 12 months.

The developers say that they are optimistic that finance for the project will be confirmed within six months.

Fully cooked

The initiative is being developed by Blue Energy, a UK-based renewable energy investment company.

Start Quote

It is the right plant in the right place at the right time”

End Quote Douglas Coleman Mere Power Nzema Ltd.

Dozens of solar projects have been announced across Africa in recent years but few have been on this ambitious scale says industry analyst Ash Sharma at IMS Research. He says the 155 megawatt plant will increase Ghana's generating capacity by 6%.

"It is the biggest single project that's going ahead at the moment," he told BBC News. "It is not the biggest in the world, but if it goes ahead it will be the biggest in Africa."

He says that a key element in helping the project go ahead has been Ghana's renewable energy law under which the plant has been awarded a feed-in tariff for 20 years. These are premium prices, guaranteed for the working life of the site.

Project director Douglas Coleman, from Mere Power Nzema Ltd. who will build the plant, told BBC News that it was "fully cooked" in planning terms.

UV on earth This map shows the amount of ultraviolet radiation reaching the ground

"The project has land, it has planning consent, it has a generating licence, and it has received a feed-in tariff," he said, "it is the right plant in the right place at the right time."

He was confident that the finance needed to build the plant could be raised in the next six months.

The company behind the scheme is majority owned and funded by members of the Stadium Group, a large European private asset and development company with £2.5bn under management.

Ash Sharma believes that the backing of this firm plus the feed-in tariff makes the idea viable.

"One of the biggest stumbling blocks has been overcome and the financing looks like it could be in a good position to succeed I would say."

Not concentrating

Unlike many other solar projects in Africa that use concentrated solar power, the Nzema plant will use photovoltaic (PV) technology to convert sunlight directly into electricity. Douglas Coleman says the characteristics of the Sun in Ghana favour PV.

"We can predict with great certainty on an annual basis, the output from the plant. That predictability means we can harmonise with the needs of the transmission network, to balance load with generation."

While concerns have been raised in recent weeks about the future of North Africa's Desertec project that aims to export solar power to Europe, researchers are far more hopeful about the prospects for local African markets.

Demand for renewable energy has been held back in emerging economies like Ghana by high costs, but a recent glut of solar panels on world markets has seen prices tumble - much to the advantage of African countries.

"The reason the technology hasn't taken off so far is that it has been too expensive," says Ash Sharma, "but the costs of solar have decreased dramatically in the last two years, they've fallen by 40% plus, and this has really enabled it to be used in emerging regions in Africa and Asia."

Installation of more than 630,000 solar PV modules will begin by the end of next year with electricity being generated early in 2014. It is due to reach full capacity at the end of 2015.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    so let's swap our dependency on energy from the middle east to north Africa. One of the biggest selling point of renewal energy is self-sufficiency!

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    This is excellent. This is surely part of the better Ghana agenda of the current government. To all the doubters stay tuned for more of such success stories from Ghana in particular.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    @Tim Boyde - the subsidy level for this Solar plant in Ghana (c. 12p/kWh) will be about twice UK on shore wind gets (5p/kWh). I think that shows how efficient on shore wind is and how low the subsidies for it are.

    Fantastic that new business models are coming through for clean energy. I hope that the development maximises control and benefit over it for the local communities in Ghana.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    #8 Bluesberry - I agree with what you are saying to an extent. But we probably need oil for plastics, etc although hopefully retrieved in a ecologically friendly manner.

    Ghana does have oil but hopefully it will not be extracted in the same disastrous manner as happened in Nigeria and will address the needs of the people who live on the land.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Excellent news... renewable sustainable energy is a global issue, not a national one, and this sort of project is just the sort of thing that we ought to be doing to address it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Best of luck to the team involved. Too long we have been donanting aid to africa with no apreciable results, its time we invested seriously. China is doing it, why not us?

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    the money spent by us in afgan and iraq wars could have put 2 windmills and five sets of solar panels on every roof in the uk
    Swords into plough shares
    i say good look to Ghana

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    so, actually the company cannot afford to build this plant. Essentially this will have to wait for investors to put in their cash and they will want to see a return on their investment which means high prices for the users.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    I wonder if they've made the mistake of dedicating the land to solar collection alone? The great thing about PV panels is that you need only plan area: you could build accommodation / light industrial units in the shade beneath.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    So, who are the investors and who will operate and maintain this sophisticated plant in Ghana for the next 20 years?

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Exciting stuff! Dozens of solar projects have been announced across Africa in recent years but few have been on this ambitious scale - 155 megawatt plant will increase Ghana's generating capacity by 6%.
    It's not the biggest in the world, but will be the biggest in Africa.
    Key point: Ghana's renewable energy law.
    Africa needs the sun more than the black blood under her soil.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    to comment number 2, it is a reasonable sized city, up to half a million people, and way more than all the existing, expensive, highly subsidised wind farms in England.
    To those that doubt it will go ahead, there is already a project of a 160 MW project in Morocco, near Ouarzazate, with funding in place, rising to 500 MW by 2020. For every "failed" project in Africa, there are a dozen successful.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Africa needs power. We live near Mombasa and at present there is not enough capacity to boil a kettle.
    About 1 year ago companies from the UK had been invited to increase generating capacity here. Nothing appears to be happening. Perhaps after Kenya's elections early next year something may happen who knows. Most projects do fail here because of greed and corruption.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Great idea!

    As oil reserves diminish, hopefully many more desert states will adopt a 'can-do' attitude for facilitating solar plants.

    It is also to be hoped that Ghanaian people will benefit from this too in terms of cheap power, and good jobs?

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Having worked there I doubt very much if anything will come of it, Africa is full of failed enterprises.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    I hope it all goes well and makes British industry proud!

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    100,000 homes? Isn't that the size of quite a small town? That's not very many. Oh well I can only wish the best, the world will never be short of sunlight.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    It will never happen!


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