Integrating Solar Power Infrastructures in Africa

#Solar #Energy Infrastructure in Africa was the main topic of discussion at the POWER-GEN and DistribuTECH conference in Johannesburg, Africa from July 17-19 of this year. The three-day event hosted leaders and innovators in the solar and renewable energy fields to discuss solar power solutions that will help elevate Africa’s overall utility infrastructure.


Through keynote speeches from power and renewable experts, along with presentations, panel discussions, and networking opportunities, this event successfully brought together experts across multiple fields to discuss the future of Africa’s renewable energy and infrastructure. 

One man in particular named Lawrence Jones, the Vice President of International Markets at the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), was a standout at the conference for several different reasons, and one of the top experts in solar energy in attendance. In an interview conducted by Ashley Theron, the senior content editor for Smart Energy International (SEI), Jones described how Africa can work to build integrated solar power infrastructure within Africa.   

His primary concern is the relationship between public and private parties within the solar power community and including the customer in these partnerships. Based on solar and renewable energy trends that Jones has observed, there is a need to incorporate and emphasize the customers that will directly benefit and utilize Africa’s solar power. Jones goes on to describe that demographic shifts have influenced his current focus, as trends in solar power usage have shown this to be a relevant and pressing concern, particularly in terms of how solar power infrastructure will be built and where. Additionally, Jones mentioned that urbanization is another primary focus, mentioning that solar energy involves more than just one facet of urban structure. 


Jones remarked that we, “have to look at energy in the context of water, transportation, [and] agriculture,” and that solar energy infrastructure, if applied and created correctly, can satisfy multiple needs for the population. This becomes particularly important in the context of the future of solar energy in Africa, as estimates now state that by 2050 the world population will increase by another 2 billion people. This conference and the leaders that comprise the greatest minds in solar energy and renewable energy resources have both the challenge and the opportunity to forefront integrated innovations in the realm of solar power and potentially revolutionize solar power utility, not just in Africa, but for the world. 


The optimism Jones holds for the future is apparent. He was confident as he detailed his vision of how the solar energy landscape might appear by 2050. According to Jones, a diversified structure that incorporates multiple elements of energy utility and production will be needed in order to satisfy the energy needs of a booming population. In terms of infrastructure itself, Jones envisions a diverse system made up of both smaller solar power energy infrastructures as well as larger ones.  


The primary principles that Jones mentioned that help him continually realize and carry out the vision of an integrated solar energy structure and system include reliability, sustainability, and affordability. Solar power in general satisfies these needs, but Jones takes these principles into consideration specifically in regard to infrastructure. Plans for a diverse system of both smaller and larger solar energy plants, as well as centralized and decentralized plants will allow for great utility and energy distribution. 


Jones addressed the need for the “right regulatory framework,” and emphasized that now is the time to drift away from merely acknowledging this overall need for proper infrastructure and organization and proceed forward with solutions. Looking towards potential future problems, Jones stated that there will be a need for vigilance moving forward in terms of evolutions of technology and potentially harmful technology disruptions. His focus is on remaining abreast to the consequences of technology, whether intended or not.  

Having the right business framework, to Jones, is the solution to avoiding as many negative consequences of solar power infrastructure integration as possible. The correct business model will be critical so that solar power and other solar energy resources are properly utilized, distributed, and managed.  

The next POWER-GEN and DistribuTECH Conference will take place in May of 2019. 

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