Rooftop panels to lead solar drive

President John Mahama is expected to launch a government initiative that will aid some 200,000 households to install solar panels on their rooftops to generate part of their electricity needs themselves.

The move will mark a shift, albeit not entirely, from government’s initial focus on grid-connected solar or the situation wherein solar panels are put up on a large expanse of land and fed into the national electricity grid.

The initiative will also come as a relief to some actors in the energy sector, who saw or see the grid-connected approach as being relatively too expensive and wasteful of land.

Opponents of grid-connected solar argue that aside from increasing costs for consumers, it requires large tracts of land for the mounting of Photovoltaic (PV) panels.

So far, government has invested in a 2megawatt grid-solar project located at Navrongo in the Northern Region.

Solar panels for the project are said to have taken over 3.4 hectares of land, and the project cost the country a whopping $9 million when one megawatt of thermal energy costs about $1 million.

A number of grid- connected solar projects are however on paper, and they include the proposed 155 megawatt solar plant by UK- based Blue Energy, which is expected to become Africa’s largest solar plant; and SADA’s proposed 40 megawatt plant in Tamale.

The new Power Minister, Dr. Kwabena Donkor, is among those who believe that in view of the acute power crisis – wherein generation is not enough to take care of base-load and where money is not readily available – grid-connected solar is a luxury the country should not spend its scarce resources on.

“I am disappointed with our approach to solar,” he told the B&FT last year when he was Chairman of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Energy and Mines.

The country, he said, has a basic energy problem whereby a lot of power is needed; the country would therefore be better off if it invested in cheaper sources of energy for the national grid while relatively expensive solar energy is encouraged for individual deployment.

“Our peak demand is from 6pm to 11pm, and at that time grid-connected solar will not be available. The only other possibility is to store it, and doing so will add at least fifty percent to the cost,” he said.

Other technocrats in the sector share the minister’s sentiments; when government leads the way by adopting the right policies, they argue, many Ghanaians will be willing to invest in filling their rooftops with solar panels and generating 20 to 30 percent of their power needs and reducing pressure on the national grid.

“Consider this: imagine that all the real estate companies that are springing up all over the place had incorporated solar energy into their projects; what do you think that would mean for us all?” said a source that pleaded anonymity.

“In Spain and other countries today, you cannot put up certain buildings without having rooftop solar as part of the project,” the source said.

“But what do we see here? You have luxury apartments coming up all over the place, and guess what; once it is available they will all draw their power hundred percent from the grid. This must change,” the source added.

Indeed, Dr. Kwabena Donkor has suggested that the country’s building code be amended to make it mandatory for new public buildings as well as private estates to incorporate solar energy.

Instead of spending a lot of money extending the national grid to remotely located and sparsely populated rural communities, solar energy should be deployed for such communities to power schools and health posts, he added.

In the western world, where renewable energy has become fashionable, coal and other cheaper sources of energy remain basic to their power needs.

Coal, which is considered the dirtiest or most environmentally destructive source of energy in the world, generated more power (39%) in the US and 40% in the UK in 2014 than any other fuel.


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