The biggest challenge faced by the renewable-energy industry is storage, and a lack of widespread adoption is impeding renewable-energy sources from realising their full potential in the greater energy mix, according to Eaton Africa operations head Eugèn Ranft.
Renewable energy, particularly concentrated solar and solar photovoltaic (PV), has the potential to be largely exploited in most African countries, which have an abundance of solar availability and vast tracts of land onto which solar-harvesting farms can be built.
Renewable energy, says Ranft, is suitable for use in microgrid applications, which play a pivotal role in electrifying remote locations in developing African countries. Microgrids are mostly separated from larger, more conventional national power grids; however, they can also be part of the national power grids.
Storage systems have also progressed at a rapid pace, he says. This enables solar PV energy to be used when there is no sunshine.
Small-scale solar PV systems, such as those used in households, have the ability to incorporate lead-acid or lithium-ion batteries as a form of storage, but use is limited, depending on the volume of batteries installed and the cost per battery.
Industrial-scale storage is required for a PV solution to ensure 24-hour availability of electricity for micropower grids, says Ranft.
Renewable energy derived from wind using wind turbines also requires storage technology to ensure that it is available when the wind is not blowing. In this regard, hydroelectricity could also benefit from storage that can used when water levels are low or being pumped back into higher-level dams for reuse.
Ranft highlights that, for renewables to gain more traction in certain African markets, some of the current “roadblocks” that impede uptake, such as financial and technical risks, might need to be revisited by implementing regulatory and legislative frameworks to stimulate growth.