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Publication - Measuring Solar Irradiation in Africa: A case for Change

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Measuring Solar Irradiation in Africa: A case for Change
Cross Boundary Energy
Sally Gichia, Kathleen Jean-Pierre, Lenny Matei, Phuthi Tsatsi, Georgina Wanyaga
Published in
August 2021
Declining solar equipment costs continue to drive African commercial-industrial (C&I) users toward solar energy solutions. Irradiation – the measurement of how much sunlight shines in each location and therefore how much electricity a solar array can produce – is a key design factor for solar customers, suppliers, and investors alike. But are the industry’s current methods of calculating long-term solar production in Africa reliable? CrossBoundary Energy’s (CBE) experience owning and operating one of Africa’s largest portfolios of solar plants for businesses suggests that this is not the case. Biases within the datasets commonly leveraged to estimate solar production in Africa cause projections to often overstate solar irradiation. If these biases are not addressed during project development, inaccurate irradiance estimates can result in up to 20% reduction in realized solar savings for C&I solar buyers and a 1-2% reduction in the internal rate of return (IRR) on investment for solar developers and investors. Careful calibration can mitigate this underproduction risk for a single plant. But the growth of the African distributed solar market as a whole – and its promise to neutralize the carbon footprint of the continent’s growing industries – rests on a fractured foundation until we all recognize the shortcomings of current methods for irradiation assessment on the continent. This report sheds light on how solar production estimates are made, the specific challenges faced in estimating solar irradiation in Africa today, and the negative consequences CBE has seen as a result of inaccurate estimates. By highlighting this issue, we aim to begin a broader conversation about how to raise the C&I industry standard for calculation of long-term solar production to deliver better outcomes for clients. Improving solar irradiation measurement on the continent is not a single organization’s responsibility; collaboration between solar buyers, developers, data providers, installers, and investors is needed to address and ultimately rectify the problems identified in this paper.