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Africa: Conquering the Night

The first-ever Africa Photovoltaic Solar Energy Conference and Exhibition (AfricaPVSEC) kicks off this coming March, aimed at meeting rapidly growing energy demand.

Africa is the second-largest continent in the world, with a billion-person population and huge landmass that trails behind only Asia. But a majority of the resident population has little to no access to electricity, as you can see in the infographic below, courtesy of Visual.ly:

Africa: Conquering the Night

Today some 25 countries in sub-Saharan Africa are facing a crisis. Even though the continent is chock full of fossil fuels and renewable resources, they simply aren’t distributed evenly. This uneven distribution creates windfall profits for some countries while aggravating the crisis in others.

Shedding Light on Africa’s Choices

So how do you power such a huge, disjointed area?

Power Africa, a multi-billion-dollar Obama administration initiative, seeks to double access to electricity in Africa over the next five years.

But even with $7 billion in support from the U.S. government and over $14 billion in private loans, the finances that have been raised through Power Africa are a pittance when compared to developed-world standards. By comparison, the U.S. electric power industry had capital spending of $90.5 billion in 2012, according to the Edison Electric Institute – over four times what Power Africa can provide.

Money isn’t the only obstacle to creating energy infrastructure on the world’s second-largest continent, either.

The logistics of providing electricity to highly isolated, rural areas is complex in a partially under-developed continent like Africa. Not to mention the disjointed and delicate political structures that demand expert maneuvering.

Next At Bat

So who’s brave enough to step up to the plate and attempt the construction of a new infrastructure in such a convoluted country?

According to AfricaPVSEC, some of the major developers may end up being ambassadors from the solar sector.

Over 110 applications to present and vie for business were received for AfricaPVSEC’s first conference – and for good reason. Scientific study has shown that Africa’s proximity to the sun actually increases the efficiency of solar photovoltaic (PV) technology, and therefore actually works better than it would in other parts of the world.

Will it be ReneSola Ltd. (SOL), which announced its formal launch of ReneSola South Africa at the end of last month? The Cape Town office will be in charge of sales and marketing across Africa – positioning itself on the frontlines as the world looks to unite and solve Africa’s electricity issue.

Or will America’s number one solar company, SolarCity (SCTY), step up and tackle the darkness overseas? Just this week, the company allied with Tesla (TSLA), taking another huge step up the ladder to power domination.

It may be too soon to tell – but keep your eyes trained on Africa. The next big emerging market for energy may just be this huge, unlit continent, which will need over $300 billion in investment to power up.

And “the chase” continues,

Burns Foster