Solar power grows in Ghana with state support and foreign investment

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Ghana’s bid to increase the nation’s solar capacity is taking place across a number of fronts. Most of this capacity is derived from the 20-MW photovoltaic (PV) plant operated by independent producer BXC Ghana. The government has expressed its determination to end reliance on kerosene lanterns in rural regions – which are known to be particulate polluters and contributors to global warming – and replace them with new solar-powered equivalents. In this initiative, the government’s approach has been one of straightforward economic subsidy, and substantial progress has been made over recent years. In 2017 the government sold just over 52,000 portable solar lanterns with phone-charging functionality to low-income, off-grid rural households, offering a subsidy of 70%. In some cases, this effort has been combined with a broader social agenda, such as the government’s donation of 280 solar lamps to the kayayei, young female head porters who carry loads for traders in urban centres.

Solar Rooftop Programme

Another solar initiative with a social aspect is the long-awaited solar rooftop programme, which involves the installation of solar arrays on the roofs of homes across the country, particularly those without access to reliable power sources. The scheme, which was announced in 2015 and originally due for implementation in 2016, has undergone a number of changes since its first conception. In March 2017 the then minister of energy, Boakye Agyarko, announced that it would be expanded to cover non-residential facilities including ministries, departments and agencies. The primary objective of this part of the scheme is to reduce the utility costs generated by government bodies, but a secondary benefit will be the example it sets to the private sector.

For the residential side of the initiative, the main incentive offered to participants comes in the form of a capital subsidy. Applicants only need to pay for the cost of the balance of system (BoS) components, such as batteries, inverters and charge controllers, after which time the Energy Commission will provide either a cash payment for solar panels, or supply the actual solar panels up to a capacity of 500 watts.

Funding is also expected to come from the private sector; prior to the programme’s launch, a number of commercial banks indicated that they were interested in providing loan facilities to participants for the procurement of BoS components. With the rooftop PV system in place, beneficiaries of the programme will be able to sell their power surplus to the local grid through a net-metering scheme. However, while the government has set an ambitious capacity target of 200 MW under the programme, there is considerable uncertainty regarding its rate of uptake, and key details of the scheme, such as power limits for net-metering eligibility, have yet to be decided as of early 2019.

Increasing Capacity

While the solar lamp and solar rooftop projects bring both social and economic benefits, the government’s most ambitious solar target is its plan to boost utility-scale PV from its current capacity of 22.5 MW to 250 MW by 2030. This level of increase will require considerable private sector knowledge and funding, and recent years have brought some welcome news in this regard. In late 2017 Italian oil and gas major Eni announced plans to build a 20-MW PV power plant in northern Ghana, and said it was also assessing the possibility of installing PV power plants in the Voltaian basin. The arrival of the European giant in the Ghanaian solar arena represents an important advance for the government’s strategy to increase renewable energy.

Nonetheless, there is still a sizeable role for the public sector – both domestic and foreign – to play. In late 2017, the nation’s biggest power supplier, the Volta River Authority, revealed that it had secured funds from Germany’s government-owned development bank KfW to build two utility-scale PV plants in the Upper West Region. The plants have 8 MW and 4 MW of capacity, respectively, and will supplement the solar power from the Navrongo plant – also built using KfW funding.

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The Report: Ghana 2019

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