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Ghana’s China-backed green energy projects play it small and safe

Eric Olander
By Eric Olander

Managing Editor, The China Africa Project

Posted on Friday, 18 December 2020 11:35

The Bui Power Authority (BPA) in Ghana recently launched a new solar farm that's connected to a Chinese-built hydroelectric dam. The idea here is that when water levels run low and power generation dips, the solar farm kicks in to make up the difference.

It’s kind of like a hybrid car that seamlessly draws on both battery power and a combustion engine.

But what’s so great about the pioneering hybrid power station in Ghana is that it provides a fantastic case study for other developing countries and provides an important model for international development partners as to the kinds of projects they should fund in the future.

Here’s why what they’re doing in Bui is so important:

1. Small scale development

Sure, Africa’s energy needs are enormous but big is expensive, complicated, and creates a huge impact on the environment. BPA’s decision to build the solar farm in five 50mw installments is far more manageable and affordable. If the project isn’t generating the expected returns, they can take a pause and defer the next instalments until the financing situation improves.

2. Leverage Chinese infrastructure

African countries like Ghana have made enormous investments in Chinese infrastructure, especially in the power sector, that will take generations to repay. Rather than build additional capacity to offset the reduced output from the Sinohydro-made hydroelectric dam, BPA opted instead to supplement the dam with the new solar farm.

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This is an especially important example for international donors and development agencies who should expand funding for projects that amplify the benefits of the existing Chinese-built roads, telecom networks, power stations, ports, etc…

3. Sustainable solutions

Many of the Chinese-built hydroelectric dams throughout Africa are going to face the same problem of unpredictable water levels that confronted the BPA. Drought and other environmental changes brought on by climate change are likely going to worsen in the future, so building sustainable energy solutions that rely on the sun rather than water to generate power is smart.

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The team that conceptualized this new hybrid solar-hydro power station deserves a raise and ribbon. It’s small, scalable, flexible, affordable, and sustainable. If you want to see what a new model for infrastructure development should look like, well, this is it.