Headquarters of Atlas Business and Energy Systems, a Ghanaian Solar PV Installer
Ghana* is a peaceful oasis in the often tumultuous West African region where the people are warm, the weather is hot, and the food is spicy! I recently had the pleasure of visiting this alluring country and the experience was truly unforgettable. Aside from my unique cultural adventures including the bobobo dance, trying fufu and goat stew, getting around via tro-tro, attempting to balance a water bowl on my head and mastering the handshake snap; I learned a great deal about Ghana’s energy infrastructure.
Ghana is one of the most developed and stable countries in Africa where the majority of the population enjoys access to all of the modern conveniences one would expect, including electricity. Although Ghana has abundant power sources (their hydroelectric facility generates the majority of the electricity supplied not only in Ghana, but throughout West Africa) the national electricity grid continues to experience inefficiencies. This has both positive and negative implications for their residential solar industry.
On the down side
There is no motivation to be energy efficient due to the lack of any meter-reading system. A flat monthly energy charge is determined for each building when it’s first inspected. This amount will not change from month to month despite acquisition of new appliances over time unless the utility is notified. Since there is no enforcement of penalties for not advising the utility, it’s no surprise that no one reports installing more lights, charging new cell phones, purchasing a refrigerator etc. The power outages make sense since the country is demanding more power than the utility even realizes!
On the up side
Frequent outages have motivated residents to explore off-grid solar options for their homes. Currently there are over a dozen successful Ghanaian solar companies dedicated to residential solar installation. The initial upfront cost, while reasonable by US standards, is still a major barrier because the average rate for a one-year loan in Ghana comes with 48% interest! But that’s a whole other story…
Given the country’s annual sun exposure, large-scale solar was a logical consideration in the initial plans to expand the country’s energy generation. But when oil was discovered off the coast in 2007 a national solar project took the back-seat in lieu of establishing offshore oil refineries. Solar is still in Ghana’s future and it looks like that may be sooner than later due to a partnership with Blue Energy of the UK to build The Nzema Project which could generate enough power for 100,000 homes annually.
Ghana is not only ideally situated for solar, but also for offshore wind. It is exciting to see a developing country like Ghana willing to explore their diverse energy resources and open to embracing new clean energy technology. It will be interesting to see what resources are prioritized in the expansion of their energy portfolio.
With any luck, they will leapfrog into a clean energy future at a much faster pace than the US is taking. While we are working hard to expand our use of renewables, it is difficult to shift into new sources given the infrastructure, jobs and culture around fossil fuels that we have built for decades. I believe establishing strong renewable energy infrastructure in countries as they develop will be the surest way towards a sustainable energy future for our planet.
Cape Coast, Ghana, a popular West African beach destination
*Ghana is a resource rich, coastal country located just above the equator and is about the size of Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware and Virginia combined.