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The up-and-coming African solar: Top 50 announced African solar PV projects

11 April 2017 by Szabolcs Magyari, Solarplaza

Under Construction
Image: Gigawatt Global

The need for energy and the abundance of sunshine provide strong justifications for adopting solar energy in Africa. The opportunities are rapidly becoming apparent as a range of international investors are planning and constructing large scale solar power plants in the region. Based on the announcement of the top 50 solar PV pipeline, Africa will witness an increase of more than 4 GW in installed solar capacity during the years to come. Our list of Top 50 projects under development comes in preparation for our events in Nigeria (The Solar Future Nigeria on 25-26 of April) and Ivory Coast (Unlocking Solar Capital Africa on 25-26 October in Abidjan). 

While the number of PV plants under construction have decreased since our previous report due to completion, many projects have been announced since.

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One of the main observations that can be deduced from the list of solar plants is that, similarly to our previous report, South Africa remains to be the most important market in terms of our biggest announced projects. This large number of announced projects might be subject to change in the future due to the high depreciation of the local currency. In second place is Nigeria as a result of its persistent push to meet its ambitious energy goals. Not only is there a tremendous need for the country to increase its energy supplies but the government also targeted clean energy sources to achieve this. 

The third largest PV focus is attracted by Egypt whose government has recently changed its strategy and opted for larger scale PV plants and fewer developers. This move has translated into several 50 MW projects on the horizon essentially kick-starting the local utility-scale PV market.

Although the list of developers is rather diverse, there are some that are especially involved in the African electrification process. One of the most prominent developers is norwegian Scatec Solar. As a result of the partnership with Norwegian private equity company Norfund, Scatec has planned to develop several plants in South Africa but it is not the only area of focus for the company. Scatec is among the few developers that concentrate on several countries for project development including Nigeria, Mozambique and Mali. 


Another significant developer in South African solar PV is global renewable energy company SunEdison (NYSE: SUNE; OTC: SUNEQ) which has been subject to much uncertainty after filing chapter 11 bankruptcy. Despite of the fact that its Yieldcos, TerraForm Power (NASDAQ: TERP) and TerraForm Global (NASDAQ: GLBL) were not included in the filing, seemingly distancing pending South African projects, it is unclear whether and to what extent SunEdison’s financial interests will be overtaken.

The significant interest in Nigeria is shared by Dubai-based solar developer, Phanes Group and American multinational conglomerate General Electric Co (NYSE:GE). The projects for the former will be developed by the Hasken-Rana joint venture whereas the latter will be developed by currently undisclosed parties. The companies have pledged to construct a number of large-scale PV projects that will aim to treat the energy crisis the country is experiencing and boost the local economy in due course. 

The number of planned solar PV plants, however are not the only thing that deserves attention in our list. The reported sizes of our top 50 announced PV list averages almost 75MW. While plants smaller than 30 MW did not make the list, projects of 75MW and 100MW are rather frequent. This tendency suggests the benefits of the economies of scale that can be achieved by developers given the ideal conditions.

In conclusion, the electrification of Africa has not only become a necessity for the region’s economic development but judging by the increased interest of international owners and developers solar has become financially competitive as well. 

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