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Four top trends to watch in the African energy sector in 2024

Starsight
Starsight

As we head 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.

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.

In South Africa for example, the national energy provider Eskom announced the deployment of around 343 MW in BESS projects as part of an overall 500 MW BESS initiative aimed at addressing the country’s long-running electricity crisis. The systems will be in remote areas (with limited access to Eskom’s network) but still close to renewable energy plants built by independent power producers (IPPs).

This collaboration between the public and private sectors supports more widespread deployment of utility-scale power and the adoption of renewable energy projects. By adding battery storage components to the national grid, businesses and consumers can gain quicker access to reliable electricity while the power utility can address peak energy demands more easily. This also ensures that the increasing amount of power generated from utility-scale solar projects can be stored and consumed outside of daylight hours to avoid stranded grid capacity.

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 – with the demand for centres in Africa expected to exceed supply by 300% by 2030. These powerhouses of technology rely heavily on a steady and safe electricity supply. From operating to maintaining their vast cooling systems, large data centres simply can’t afford the risk of a grid collapse or any possible power interruptions. 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.

As more and more businesses become aware of the benefits of off-grid solar, it is likely that we will see an even greater adoption of this technology in the coming year.

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.

This can be done in several ways. For example, trading of electricity in South Africa allows a service provider of solar energy to buy and sell, excess wind energy without having to invest substantial capital expenditure amounts. Similarly, instead of having gas-powered energy compete with renewable energy, the aggregation model will also allow providers of such services to aggregate their energy solutions and provide the client with a holistic offering. The goal is to provide consumers with a seamless and integrated final product that maximises the benefits of renewable energy across various aspects of their daily lives. The real value for customers lies in a collaboration of providers who can meet their specific needs and power the entire energy lifecycle.

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.

This trend is fostering the emergence of holistic service providers capable of providing end-to-end solutions that address the diverse needs of businesses, consumers and communities. Our recent market-milestone merger between Starsight Energy and SolarAfrica is a case in point. Customers in Eastern, Southern and Western Africa can access our comprehensive mix of cost-effective solutions that provide power security and carbon reduction. These include solar energy, battery storage, wheeling, and energy management, among others.

The future is bright. If 2023 was anything to go by in terms of transformation for the energy sector, 2024 will be marked by accelerated innovation and a collective commitment to harnessing the full potential of renewable energy that holds the promise of a more resilient, more sustainable, and more tightly connected energy future for Africa.

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