Sub-Saharan solar race begins, with Canada taking the lead

Solar Energy - World Bank Photo Collection

By JUSTIN BULL

July 10, 2014

Sub-Saharan Africa may be known for an abundance of sun, but Windiga Energy – a Canadian company – intends to translate that wealth into electrons. This week it announced plans to develop a 20MW project in Burkina Faso, the largest of its kind south of the Sahara.

Western companies are increasingly working overseas to develop renewable energy projects. In mature markets, policies to support renewables have been drying up. And competition between firms has led to razor thin margins, making it harder to do business.

Nascent markets like Burkina Faso, in contrast, seem lucrative. The National Electricity Company of Burkina has guaranteed a 25-year power purchase agreement, with the intent to sell the solar energy domestically along with exports to neighbours.

But a purchase agreement alone didn’t motivate Windiga. The African Development Bank and the Emerging Africa Infrastructure Fund have both agreed to fund the project, providing financial certainty and an access to capital that might not otherwise exist.

Canadian clean technology companies have a reputation for being export focused, with over 75 percent exporting their goods and services overseas. Meanwhile, African countries have been experiencing strong GDP growth for the past decade, with a new middle class demanding more and more electricity.

Meeting this growing demand has been a challenge. During the past month, Ghana – a neighbour of Burkina Faso – had to ration electricity use to ensure an adequate supply for watching World Cup football matches.

With solar panels plummeting in price, and ample supplies of sunlight across the continent, Windiga’s project is likely to be the first of many. The challenge will be competing with suppliers from China, India, and other developing countries that are aggressively looking to invest in Africa.



Photo Credit: World Bank Photo Collection