Ghana can tap solar for cross-border energy trading - UNEP

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Ghana could be a frontrunner for clean energy integration and energy exports across the West African power pool, according to a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report.

The 'Ghana Strategy Proposal – Realizing solar PV projects in a cross-border power supply context' study, part of the Green Economy-Trade Opportunities Project (GE-TOP), found that Ghana has the theoretical potential for 6,877MW of solar PV all located within five kilometres from the grid, on land that does not compete with other uses. This solar generation can also be used to export power to neighbouring countries.

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Speaking to PV Tech during the Solar and Off-grid Renewables West Africa event in Accra, Ghana, Lennart Kuntze, consultant at UNEP, said that since the 1970’s Ghana has participated in cross-border energy trading with neighbouring countries including Togo, Benin, Burkina Faso and Cote D’Ivoire, however, the share of intermittent renewable energy in this trade has been negligible.

The report looks at the ability for PV to contribute given that the transmission infrastructure is already in place. One finding was that for solar integration to work and be technically and financially feasible, the plants would need to be located within 5km of the grid. However, Kuntze noted that the cost of electricity generation from solar PV remains relatively high in comparison to current cross-border bulk supply tariff of US$0.15/kWh.

Part of Ghana’s ‘National Energy Policy 2010’ included plans to become a major exporter of oil and power by 2012 and 2015 respectively, however this was postponed due to a national energy shortage. In 2013, grid access in Ghana was estimated to be 72%.

Potential to loosen the solar cap

The report also modelled the case for a 100MW solar plant in the North of Ghana, the energy of which could be exported to Burkina Faso, however, this would be affected by the current 20MW cap of solar plants in Ghana. The plant could create 3,000 jobs and earn Ghana US$38 million per annum in foreign exchange from export.

Kuntze said: “The scenario we modelled could also be for five plants that are close to one another in the North so this is not a concrete suggestion for one 100MW plant.”

He also said that the 150MW overall cap on grid-connected solar in Ghana was put in place after an analysis on grid constraints and the announcement of a feed-in tariff (FiT) led to the Ghana Energy Commission issuing 76 provisional licenses to potential renewable energy developers. However, the new study finds that in 2016 the grid will now be able to accommodate 220MW of solar PV instead.

Kuntze added: “These findings could lead to a loosening in the cap.”

“The FiT was not really affordable from a public utility point of view. This was in the first place to put a break to these kinds of license applications and to
 translate the FiT into more of a competitive tender. I think once they have given out licenses to fill these 150MW then they will gradually expand.”

The report also said there are several planned transmission network upgrades in Ghana, from 161kV to 330kV. Once completed, the upgrades would reinforce the network to be able to haul roughly four times the transmission capacity of the current 161kV lines, and this would enhance the ability to integrate intermittent power supplies.

Meanwhile, models showed that a further 70MW of solar PV could be integrated into the grid in the North of Ghana during 2016 with the intention of exporting power to Burkina Faso.

The new strategy proposal builds on the GE-TOP Ghana Solar Export Potential Study launched in September last year, which found that Ghana has, in theory, a total solar power generation potential of 106.2GW, on available land within 20 kilometres from the national power grid. This is around two thirds of the current installed capacity in all of Africa, accoridng to UNEP.

This article has been revised to include various comments from Lennart Kuntze

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