Is Africa going to skip coal and go directly to solar as it continues developing?
With luck it will skip coal and go with a mixture of gas generation, wind energy, solar PV and desert hydroelectricity.
The continent has a fair amount of oil and typically where there's oil there's gas. I just assessed Angola's potential energy mix and it has both, although far more than enough hydro, solar and wind resources to ignore all fossil fuel generation. Gas isn't great from a CO2 and pollution perspective, but it's not nearly as bad as coal.
Wind and solar are capital intensive while gas defers costs to a higher operating cost. As a result, gas is attractive for relatively poor countries compared to renewables for utility-scale generation. They can afford to build gas plants and pay for fuel out of revenues. Getting financing for larger capital projects is often difficult. Developed nations have typically found ways to do this. Hopefully, little gas generation will be built and it will drop in capacity factor rapidly as
Many locations remain off-grid or are connected to sketchy grids however. Micro-grids with lots of smaller scale solar and wind can make a big difference to more rural areas. The overall energy mix won't be as stable as we are used to in the developed world, but it's a lot better than no electricity.
Hydro power is low carbon only when it's not submerging a lot of biomass. In tropical rain forests, CO2 emissions are high for 60 years due to anaerobic decomposition of biomass under the reservoir.
While wind and solar prices have dropped precipitously, they are still capital intensive forms of generation. With luck, just as the World Bank pledged to limit financing for coal plants it will pledge to ensure financing for renewables. That said, it's track record since the 2013 pledge isn't that great.
Solar and wind are both intermittent power sources. You need storage or backup power to prevent blackouts during non windy nights.
If you only have a small hut and a few appliances then you could use a small solar panel and a small battery pack. But not all africans are like that and not all africans plan to remain in the mud hut stage for long.
This is what appears to be downtown Nairobi, Kenya at night
I suggest that coal will continue to play its part in many developing countries. Despite recent environmentally friendly regulations, coal will remain an important source of power, especially in non-OECD countries. Between 2012–2040, the IEA predicts that total coal consumption in the non-OECD countries will increase by 0.8%/year, compared with an average increase of just 0.1%/year elsewhere and, in countries with Clean Power Programs demand for coal is likely to fall by 0.3%/year.
Demand for coal is being affected by long-term trends such as:
- The underperformance of the global industrial sector.
- A reduction in the power intensity needed for economic growth.
- Increasing power plant efficiency caused by the adoption of super-critical technology.
- The shift towards cleaner fuels.
- Phasing out of coal use in Canada, Finland and the UK.
- Expansion in the use of coal in such countries as South Africa, Nigeria, India and Indonesia.
Wherever public infrastructure is unreliable, private solar and private storage are going to continue to be attractive. In the past, businesses and well-off homeowners spent sizable amounts on diesel generator backup. This will soon be transitioning to batteries and solar, purchased privately avoiding red tape and corruption.
Yes. Solar is already cheaper than coal, and will get more so. That's not even taking into account the environmental effects