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Solar Energy Could Solve Our Energy Crisis

December 3, 2014

Experts and politicians, and in fact ordinary Ghanaians on the street have attributed many reasons why the country is facing one of the serious power crisis to have affected the country since the last major one in 1998. And you will never be wrong to suggest that both our so-called experts and the politicians have absolutely no clue on how to address this serious issue that bothers on energy security.

When politicians make promises, please don’t take them to the heart (of course unless you want to be disappointed). And when so-call experts speak, please just listen to them but do not take any note. Ghana is in serious energy crisis today because of only two people: the so-call expert and the politician. And I will explain the reasons below.

First of all, all our energy policies and programs are drafted and implemented by these guys. They tell us everything that we needed to hear on why and how we should give them the support and the resources to implement their policies and programs. And each time we do, they fail to deliver. The ordinary Ghanaian on the street is never in charge of the planing and the implementation of these policies and programs. And yet we are always at the receiving end of these disastrous policies.

Secondly, energy issues should never ever be used as political tools in the first place. The two major political parties in Ghana, however, always finds comfort in using energy as their political weapons. Just listen to both government communicators and opposition communicators discuss energy issues, and all what you hear is that this government added this amount of megawatts and that government couldn’t add a single megawatt. As if the best and the only way to address energy issues is by adding more megawatts. Sad!

Today, Ghana has a total installed capacity of 2,846.5MW. The VRA, or the volta river authority generates roughly 75% of this from hydro and thermal sources. The mix includes the following: hydro, 47%; thermal, 36%, solar, 0.1%. Independent Power Producers (IPP) generates about 12% from thermal sources, whilst the much talked about Bui hydro currently generates about only 5%.

It is important to note (and that is why we need to understand that adding more megawatts (MW) does not necessarily mean that we are solving the energy issues) that our current power generation at peak is about 1,770MW, whilst demand is around 1,850MW. One would have thought that with our current installed generation capacity of 2,846.5MW Ghana should not be experiencing energy problems let alone crisis. So what is the real problem? Fuel, or lack of it!

Fuel is the single most important thing when it comes to power generation. And your ability to have access to regular and affordable fuel will determine whether or not you can secure the supply of energy. In Ghana, hydro and other renewable sources contributes less than 50% of our generation mix. And it is sad that solar of all energy sources contributes less than 2% of the mix. Hydro depends on water to become useful. Solar depends on the sun. And thermal sources depend on fossil fuels (petro, diesel, gas, etc.) We are aware of the perennial challenges of the Akosombo Dam. The dam hardly gets to its full capacity because of so many factors, not least lack of rain fall. The problem with fossil fuel is that it is very expensive and dirty. It is not sustainable and nobody can guarantee its continuous supply. The geo-political crisis in the middle east is affecting the price of fuel. And Nigeria has not been supplying us with regular gas to power our thermal plants. And we have the sun!

Solar energy is the single most important energy source that can fuel the Ghanaian economy out of all the other energy sources. It is cheap, clean and environmentally friendly. And the best part of it all is that we have a lot of sun shining in all parts of Ghana. So why are we not even talking about solar energy?

The reasons are many. The number one reason is that many people wrongly believe that solar is expensive. The upfront cost of installing a solar energy facility may seem to be expensive. However, when you do the calculations, you will come to the conclusion that in the long run, solar is cheaper. You don’t run any cost whatsoever in getting the fuel, which is the sun, and that is free. The only costs you incur are the cost of installing the facility and in almost all cases a very minimal maintenance and operating cost.

Secondly, most people do not understand the solar energy technology. People still hold the “colonial” view that solar is not working, and cannot even power most heavy duty machines. With the right technology and quality products, solar energy can power anything and everything under the sun.

Solutions for Ghana

Ghana can adopt solar energy as the main panacea for addressing our energy crisis. However, it is important for me to state that I do not believe in large solar farms and plants. Those are sometimes unnecessarily expensive and requires large areas of land to become meaningful. What I am proposing is that Ghanaians should focus on rooftop solar installations to address the energy crisis.

All the houses in Ghana, especially those in the urban areas could be turned into solar energy generation utility by adopting rooftop solar energy technology. For instance, the average house in Ghana could depend on a 3 to 4KW of solar energy for a 24/7 power supply. What this means is that if we ask all the houses in Accra alone to adopt the rooftop solar technology, we will be freeing the VRA and the ECG (electricity company of Ghana) to concentrate on industries and other large consumers.

The government must put in place policies that will encourage more entrepreneurs to enter the solar energy distribution market.The banks and other financial institutions should be willing and ready to support these entrepreneurs.

When you adopt solar energy technology, you only pay for the initial installation cost, and you enjoy free electricity for more than 25 years before you change the technology.

So why are we not adopting this technology to solve our energy crisis?

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