Power-hungry Senegal to go solar in energy overhaul

Nov 14, 2008 01:00 AM

Senegal hopes to rein in surging electricity prices, reduce frequent blackouts and power most of its street lighting through an energy policy using solar panels, the government said.
Located on Africa's west coast at one end of the arid Sahel belt south of the Sahara, Senegal has huge solar potential but has so far lacked the expertise and investments to harness it. President Abdoulaye Wade, 82, instructed his energy minister to extend the national electricity grid over the entire country and build a factory making low-energy light bulbs, a government statement summing up the cabinet meeting said.

US space agency NASA scientists have identified a location in nearby Niger as the sunniest piece of land on earth, and renewable energy campaigners say the region has huge solar generating potential.
"He (Wade) has also decided to put in place an energy-saving and management policy to lower prices for electricity consumers and reduce the negative effects of costs on our nation's economic development," the government said.

Like many African countries, Senegal has suffered long-term underinvestment and neglect of its power network. This has hampered economic development despite it being one of the region's most stable democracies since independence from France in 1960. Last month, crowds of youths smashed up offices of the state power utility Senelec in the capital Dakar to protest against frequent power cuts due to load-shedding.
Wade said last year he was investigating installing a nuclear power station to help make up the generation shortfall, which would make Senegal only the second sub-Saharan African nuclear producer after South Africa.

Two years ago, Wade, an economist by training, launched "The Wade Formula" as a proposal for Africa's oil-exporting countries to share a proportion of their windfall profits from high world oil prices with their poor neighbours. So far none has done so.
Senegal generates a small amount of power from local natural gas, but depends mostly on oil-fired stations run on imported fuel, which has caused large electricity price increases in the past two years as world oil prices have reached record highs.

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