ANALYSIS | AGENCIES | As Africa heads into 2024, the renewable energy sector is set to see innovation that will transform the way energy is accessed, stored and deployed across Africa. Paul van Zijl, Group CEO at Starsight Energy, discusses 4 key trends that he thinks will profoundly shape the industry over the next year.
1. Batteries will provide benefits far beyond backup for behind-the-meter projects
One of the most significant shifts in solar technology revolves around the integration of battery energy storage systems (BESS) – especially for behind-the-meter solar (also known as onsite solar). Traditionally, batteries were seen primarily as backup storage when paired with a solar system, ensuring a steady power supply during cloudy days, nighttime or when the grid is unavailable. However, in 2024, the focus is vastly shifting towards load management, where batteries play a dynamic role in optimising energy consumption.
As the trend for the deployment of batteries across the continent grows, cutting-edge management systems will become a key part of solar installations with an integrated battery component. These systems use advanced algorithms to predict energy demand patterns. This allows for the strategic use of battery storage – discharging it during expensive peak times and charging it using solar energy or the grid during off-peak – to reduce the costly demand charges that come with variable tariff structures. Along with enhancing the efficiency of solar systems, integrated battery storage solutions can also contribute to grid stability by reducing strain during high-demand periods.
When it comes to front-of-the-meter (or offsite) storage, BESS is also set to play a bigger role in the deployment of utility-scale renewable energy technology like wheeling – where power is generated at an offsite location (like a solar or wind farm) and transported using the available power network to different off-takers.
2. Data, banking and tourism: The rise of sustainable off-grid solar solutions
Off-grid renewable energy solutions, including stand-alone systems and mini-grids, offer a unique opportunity to expand modern energy access services. The distributed nature of these systems allows them to be tailored to local conditions, tap into available renewable resources, deliver diverse energy services, and utilise local capacity to ensure long-term sustainability.
We will see a rise in these solutions as more and more commercial and industrial businesses realise the value of effectively moving off-grid. This will be prevalent in three industries:
Data centres: Africa is a global hub for data centres. According to research from African Infrastructure Investment Managers (AIIM), there is around 250 MW of installed data centre capacity across Africa. These powerhouses of technology rely heavily on a steady and safe electricity supply. Power autonomy is the name of the game here, making battery storage a necessity from the get-go.
Banking: While the prevalence of mobile financial services continues to soar on the continent, there is still a tangible need for brick-and-mortar banks and ATMs in countries where access to these services remains essential. These sites need to remain operational should there be any sort of grid collapse or catastrophic power failures – making an off-grid solution a non-negotiable component of the future of banking in Africa.
Tourism: With the rise of conscious consumerism and eco-tourism, sustainability is fast becoming the differentiating factor for discerning travellers choosing their next holiday destination. Luxury lodges in popular destinations in East and Southern Africa are fast moving towards fully off-grid solar battery operations to offer their guests uninterrupted access to power while boosting the lodge’s green credentials in the process.
3. Seamless access to renewables through a reimagined aggregation model
We will certainly see a shift towards aggregated solutions, wherein energy providers will consolidate diverse technologies and services into comprehensive packages in 2024. This trend is driven by the recognition that a holistic approach to energy solutions is not only more convenient for consumers but also more effective in optimising energy production and consumption.
4. Tackling complexities through an increasingly consolidated sector
As the solar industry matures, a trend towards consolidation will become increasingly evident in 2024. Larger energy companies will consider merging or acquiring smaller players, creating more robust and diversified entities. This consolidation is driven by the desire to achieve economies of scale, increase market share, and foster innovation by pooling resources and expertise.
Consolidation in the industry is not limited to manufacturers but extends to service providers, research and development firms, and energy management companies. By joining forces, these entities can tackle the complexities of the evolving energy landscape more effectively, driving down costs and accelerating the adoption of alternative energies across the continent.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Starsight Energy