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Energy solutions in rural Africa: mapping electrification costs of distributed solar and diesel generation versus grid extension

Three rural electrification options are analysed showing the cost optimal conditions for a sustainable energy development applying renewable energy sources in Africa. A spatial electricity cost model has been designed to point out whether diesel generators, photovoltaic systems or extension of the grid are the least-cost option in off-grid areas. The resulting mapping application offers support to decide in which regions the communities could be electrified either within the grid or in an isolated mini-grid. Donor programs and National Rural Electrification Agencies (or equivalent governmental departments) could use this type of delineation for their program boundaries and then could use the local optimization tools adapted to the prevailing parameters (


La méthodologie présentée dans ce document est certainement intéressante et il serait utile d'en discuter dans les détails, notamment en ce qui concerne les pays où l'électrification rurale demeure un défi majeur.

Je constate néanmoins que cette approche très large (tout le continent) semble conduire dans certains cas à des conclusions douteuses; à titre d'exemple, en Guinée Bissau le coût de l'électricité fournie par générateur diesel est certainement plus élevé que la fourchette indiquée dans la figure 2 de cet article.

Une consolidation des hypothèses de travail au niveau national pourrait être menée dans certains pays 'pilote' pour vérifier à quelles conclusions cette même méthodologie, en utilisant de données correctes, conduit.

I have to agree with Antonio. Costs of HSD-generated electricity given in Figure 2 are way off, at least for Somalia. Costs of electricity generated by private operators in Hargeisa for example is over USD 1 per kWh and the less-efficient subsidised public company is USD 0.60 per kWh, still higher than the figure indicated in Figure 2. Even in Liberia, where I worked previously, tariffs were ca. USD 50-55 per kWh and these costs did not take into account depreciation. While penetration of PV technology is in Somalia is low, the potential for solar energy in Somalia is high when compared to diesel generation, so I don't understand how the authors come to the conclusion that diesel should be preferred to PV, especially in Somaliland where current diesel-based electricity generation is stifling urban economic development. There is something inherently flawed in the article's research and methodology.

Dear readers,
Thank you very much for showing interest in the paper. I fully agree with what you suggest, namely that the PV has much better potential than the diesel option and I think the article is clear about expressing this. We made a uniform calculation for Africa using the only available continent wide diesel price data for the comparison. We kindly asked the readers and our platform members for better data on diesel price, grid network and in the analysis we used those ones. We update these frequently using the same methodology.
(I have to mention that most often we get the opposite opinion: they say grid electricity and diesel are much cheaper than our calculation show).
The paper basicly says that PV is already cheaper in vast territories of Africa than electricity from diesel. So I do not understand the assertion of the comment: "how the authors come to the conclusion that diesel should be preferred to PV"  
We never claimed this, even the opposite: those countries where electricity from diesel is still cheaper than PV option usually give high subsidy to the diesel. 
If one had a look at the final figures and Table 1 it would be clear that we argue that without the subsidy PV would be a much more attractive option than the electicity from diesel even in those countries (see the final concluding part).
On the two countries mentioned in the comment:
The readers should use all the figures from the article (that give higher resolution) and zoom in on the details:
For Somalia: figure 6 b says that there are quite a big areas where PV is the cheapest option (especially in Somaliland as the comment says), but in the South given the low diesel price there are some places where both PV and diesel electricity are cheaper then the given treshold, but  there are places where the diesel was the cheapest option (with the low diesel price given that year).
For Liberia the analysis indicates by the green colour: all the options are more expensive than the treshold (as the comment says). I think the comment interprets the brown colour for Sierra Leone where the diesel price is quite low.
Since the article describing the methodology published last summer, we have updated the calculations with the recent much lower PV prices, the new results clearly show the advantage of the PV in many more regions as well as in Somalia.
We hope that the latest update will come online in a new article and will show clearly these trends.

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Umberto Tromboni
8 August 2012

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