No sunset yet for solar energy

A solar roofed parking lot at Maiyan resort in Laikipia County. 

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Solar power is about to end fossil fuels' dominance in the global energy market, supplying most of the world's electricity, transportation, and heating. Although fossil fuels are finite and harmful, they are also costly and unreliable. In contrast, solar energy is abundant, clean, and inexpensive, and it can be used practically anywhere on earth.

Solar energy is fast becoming more accessible and affordable, altering the energy landscape because of technology advancements and increased productivity.

The Economist on June 22nd predicted that "solar cells will in all likelihood be the single biggest source of electrical power on the planet by the mid-2030s." Solar energy is expanding at an unprecedented rate.

The publication reported that installed solar capacity doubles every three years and grows tenfold. This expansion will have a significant impact on the cost of power, lowering it to less than half of the lowest accessible now. Some foreign missions in Nairobi are already utilising solar to power themselves.

The world, and more specifically Africa, where many still lack electricity, will begin to feel the effects of this energy richness. The continent has abundant solar resources, with an average of more than 300 sunny days per year. Yet, it also faces severe energy challenges, with more than half of its population lacking access to reliable and modern energy services.

Many African countries rely on expensive and unreliable imports of fossil fuels or suffer from frequent power outages and poor grid infrastructure. Solar energy offers a viable alternative that can address these challenges and unlock Africa's economic potential.

As the price of solar energy declines, barriers to its widespread adoption remain. The high upfront cost of solar panels and installation is still a challenge. Although solar energy can save money in the long run, many potential users lack the capital or credit to invest in solar systems. Therefore, upfront tax incentives that cut the initial cost or provide financial benefits for using solar energy can play a crucial role in accelerating the transition to a solar-powered world.

Power in every home will significantly reduce food waste and improve food security in Africa.

Solar energy can provide decentralised and off-grid solutions that can reach remote and rural areas, where most of the energy-poor live. It can also reduce dependence on fossil fuel imports and improve energy security and sovereignty.

Moreover, solar energy can create jobs, stimulate local industries, and foster innovation and entrepreneurship. Solar energy can also support sustainable development and environmental protection by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving air quality, and enhancing resilience to climate change.

To realise the vision of universal energy provision, the continent must overcome several other barriers and challenges that hinder the widespread adoption and deployment of solar energy. These include a lack of adequate financing, policy frameworks, technical skills, and public awareness, as well as competing interests, vested interests, and corruption.

Thus, there is a need to create an enabling environment and a supportive ecosystem for solar energy. This entails investing in infrastructure, capacity building, innovation, and governance, as well as promoting regional cooperation, knowledge sharing, and best practices.

There is, therefore, an urgent need to phase out subsidies and tax breaks for fossil fuels, which distort the energy market and create an unfair advantage for dirty and expensive sources of energy. By removing these incentives, governments can level the playing field and allow solar energy to compete on its own merits.

Additionally, governments can introduce carbon pricing mechanisms that reflect the true social and environmental costs of fossil fuels and make solar energy more attractive and affordable. Furthermore, governments can allocate more public funds and mobilise more private capital for solar energy projects, especially in underserved and marginalised areas.

This can be achieved by providing grants, loans, guarantees, or other forms of financial support, as well as creating conducive regulatory and legal frameworks that reduce risks and barriers for investors and developers.

By reducing investments in expensive sources of energy and prioritising the emerging role of solar power, Africa can unlock its vast potential for clean and renewable energy and benefit from its multiple advantages.

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