Affordable and clean energy is at the root of many of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Modern energy, like electricity and liquefied petroleum gas, is a vital need for industries and households. But more than 40% of people in the world’s least developed countries do not have access to electricity. In developed countries, this figure is only 10%.

There are huge benefits to accelerating access to energy , including economic benefits, increased study hours, and reduced pollution. Closing this energy gap is, however, a Herculean task, with little progress having been made. Investments in renewable energies and energy efficiency must be multiplied by five, if universal access to energy is to be achieved by 2030.

Senegal appears to be the one that has made the most progress in this area, among the least developed countries. In this group comprising 30 other African countries, it has one of the highest electricity access rates and it is the only country that has a rate above 50% with almost universal access (around 85% ) in the towns.

Senegal’s population is young and growing. Over 60% of its residents are under 25 and over 75% of Senegalese work in the agricultural sector. However, industries like agribusiness, mining and fertilizer production are equally important sectors. Improving energy systems would modernize these sectors.

To achieve the goal of universal access to energy by 2030, the United Nations says Senegal must double its electrification rate . Currently, only 33% of rural populations have access to electricity. Connecting their home to the centralized grid is, however, too expensive for most rural households, and building the transmission infrastructure will take years.

Last year, Senegal took measures to meet these challenges, starting with the diversification of its energy mix. About 88% of its electricity is produced from fossil fuels, the rest from renewables. The country intends to increase the share of the latter to 20% by 2017 . One way to do this is to harness solar power.

Senegal is also relying on micro-grids to improve accessibility to energy. These micro-grids need an electricity generator (running on diesel or solar panels, for example), users, a way to connect them and a system to regulate the flow of electricity. These devices can operate autonomously or be connected to the main electricity grid immediately or subsequently. They can contribute to the electrification of rural villages, as has been observedin Ghana, where micro-grids have electrified four isolated communities, serving 10,000 people. Although this represents only a small part of the entire Ghanaian population, this project proves that it is possible to improve access to energy in rural areas through microgrids and that this model can be reproduced elsewhere.

Solar energy

In Senegal, electricity consumption per capita , estimated at 221 kWh per year, is undoubtedly higher in cities where access to electricity is greater. In 2017, the largest solar power plant in West Africa was inaugurated in Senegal. This 30 MW grid-connected infrastructure substantially increases the national electricity production capacity, which is 650 MW. According to a first estimate , it could produce around 48 million kilowatt-hours of electricity each year, equivalent to the annual consumption of more than 215,000 Senegalese.

Senegal has several other solar energy projects, completed or under construction. The electricity company The public electricity company has appealed to qualified contractors for the realization of new related projects with a capacity of an additional 100 MW . This is, among other things , a 15 MW solar power plant connected to the network of the city of Thiès, near Dakar – an impressive project which will promote access to energy in the populated localities of western Senegal. .

However, achieving universal access to electricity for the 15 million Senegalese will require much more investment in diverse generation sources and distribution modes, including grid connections and independent microgrids.

Micro-grids

The expansion of electricity generation from the grid, although significant, remains insufficient, especially in rural areas that are not connected to the grid. Most households cannot afford the connection costs and building transmission infrastructure takes years. Millions of people are therefore deprived of electricity while waiting for a connection to the grid.

Thanks to microgrids, rural areas can have access to electricity without having to go through the costly and time-consuming construction of a grid connection.

With support from the World Bank, Senegal and other African countries are investing in micro-grids . The regulatory framework and the political framework of this country are favorable to them. Its policy includes both a top-down approach for relatively large microgrids covering large areas and a bottom-up approach for entrepreneurs wishing to build small microgrids in rural areas.

The Senegalese government has also launched tenders for larger micro-grid projects. For example, a Moroccan public service won a call for tenders for the construction of a micro-network to serve 21,800 households. Another promising innovation to report is a 2 MW off-grid solar power project with storage at seven remote sites.

Senegal has demonstrated it: there is more than one approach to follow in order to provide modern energy services. Throughout 2017, this country has shown that large-scale, grid-connected solar power plants complement isolated micro-grids to provide clean, reliable and affordable electricity to people in rural and urban areas. Efforts to achieve the “energy access dividend” will help Senegal drop from the list of least developed countries.

 

Source: The Conversation

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