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 38.

    Yes Eastvillage, but do the numbers again and take into account the fuel costs, as with nearly all renewables the upfront cost is high but the fuel and running costs are almost nothing compared to FF plants.


  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    Richard4 - "I'm no expert, but the only down side I can see with these Solar Farms, is the amount of land they take up."

    I think you will find that in most Arab and African nations, these plants are being planned to be built in desert areas - so very little loss of fertile land.

    In actual fact, to use desert areas like this, actually protects, rather than removes, fertile and habitable land!

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    Great news.. But who will pay for this overpriced energy production, the poor Ghanaian tax-payer via a 30% world bank loan... but hey, let us look at the bright side, some politician just earned themselves a Ferrari!

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Some believe growing food crops is a better alternative, but as African crops are increasingly destroyed by climate change, solar power makes more sense. It has much smaller destructive effects on the planet and once manufactured, almost zero effect on the eco system for aprox. 20yrs (panel life). PV power will reduce wood burning to cook and oil to light up homes. Both highly polluting fuels!

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    the simple sum produce more energy and the human being will find more ways to use abuse/it. A never ending cycle. sustainable energy is just eco marketing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    The ONLY thing that would prevent this happening is greed.
    Therefore it will not happen.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    Someone, somewhere will no doubt be exploited!

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    @25. sporpo

    If you want to get excited why not do some more research on the issue? There's plenty of other information about this out there - have you heard of Google?

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    155 MW solar plant for $400 million? FRAUD! Irish utility ESB is building a 1500 MW gas fired plant in Ireland for only $1.2 billion and that includes paying high euro wages. The people of Ghana are being robbed. Neighboring Nigeria has loads of gas.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    Good, but long overdue, we knew in the 70's that key parts of Africa are a solar energy gold mine, why did it take so long?

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Great! Someone has had enough common sense to go "Others are building in Africa as alot of land is uninhabital and unfarmable. The Sun is extremely powerful here and is, for most part, constant. Lets build a massive renewable energy plant here!" We are starting to see the first steps in the right direction in a future of sustainable energy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    £260m for 155MW isn't a great return by todays fossil fuel burning power station standards. But then again, over a long life - less moving parts, free fuel to generate the electricity - surely much much cheaper in the long run?

    should equate to cheaper spark for the end user? Salaries are low in Ghana so it would have to be cheap, relatively speaking.

  • Comment number 26.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    Is this 100,000 homes at Ghanian levels of energy consumption, or at UK levels? Does it store the power for night-time use? How many local people will be able to afford it? Do the numbers add up? Not enough detail in here to know how excited we need to get!

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    The Sun doesn't shine for 24hrs a day, even in Ghana, so this will only work as part of a mix of generating technologies. There is no indication what those might be nor any clues to how any storage might be carried out.

    As a stand-alone facility this might prove to be a white elephant..

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    @19. richard4

    Solar plants by there very nature are generally located in areas with constant, powerful sun shine and are therefore very little use when trying to grow food. Who ever heard of a farm in a desert?

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    With the world population expanding... we need to in fact reduce the population, rather than find ways of feeding more people.

    The Earth has a finite capacity for humans, based on availability of food, water, habitable land. Why would anyone want to plan for a situation of maximum population with everyone living with only barely enough resources to survive?

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    The only sensible plan I have heard about renewable energy so far put them in uninhabitable space.

    Having said that I doubt that ghana will see any of the benefits of this electricity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    One of the largest difficulties that we will face when trying to mitigate against climate change is engaging with developing nations. Hopefully this project will display the benefits, both financially and environmentally to the African governments.

    Ghana is only next door to Nigeria - a massive boom economy and an enormous population - lets hope this trend spreads!

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    I'm no expert, but the only down side I can see with these Solar Farms, is the amount of land they take up. With the world population expanding, we need all the land we got to produce food surely?


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