Developing Sustainable Power to Meet sub-Saharan Africa Electricity Demand


1) Sub-Saharan Africa’s access to electricity laid bare in 6 shocking statistics

At least 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa have no access to electricity. That is, on average 5 out of every 10 persons. Estimates from the Centre for Global Development show that around 82% (490 of 600) of them live in rural areas. In 13 of these poor countries, up to 20% (only) of the population have access to electricity (UNDP).

Looking at hospitals and schools, the World Resources Institute (WRI) reported that on average 3 out of every 4 hospitals in sub-Saharan Africa do not have reliable access to electricity, due in part to frequent power outages. It also reports that 4 out of 5 primary and secondary schools have no access to reliable electricity at all.

2) On the importance of Sustainable Development Goal #7

SDG #7 is so important especially within the sub-Saharan Africa context; because the achievement of the remaining 16 SDG’s targets, depends on the access to affordable and clean energy (The Energy Progress Report 2020). No poverty (SDG #1), zero hunger (SDG #2), good health and well-being (SDG #3), quality education (SDG #4), and decent work and economic growth (SDG #8) are particularly relevant here. For example, with reliable access to electricity, a rural health clinic’s vaccines will be stored in a refrigerator safely, babies will be delivered at night in better working conditions and the rate of retention of qualified nurses and medical doctors will increase (WRI). Smallholders will be able to power irrigation pumps and manufacture food locally (UNDP). Households will store foods for longer in a fridge, contributing to food security (WEF). With regards to quality education, children will study comfortably at night and use the internet.

3) Efforts towards Sustainable Development Goal #7 are still largely insufficient

Progress is being made towards SDG #7: energy sector commitments for Africa amounted to $43.8 billion in 2018, mostly from African governments, China, World Bank and the AfDB; this is 67% higher than the previous 3-year average (ICA). However, 530 million people will still have no access to electricity in 2030 in sub-Saharan Africa (World Energy Outlook 2019’s report); due in part to the population growth (expected to double by 2050), the rapid urbanisation and the energy financing needs that remain large (estimated to be $120 billion a year or more until 2040). This shocking fact suggests that SDG #7 is off-target under current policies (IEA).

4) Meeting the demand by developing renewable energy

Evidence suggests that African renewable energy potential is vast and remains largely untapped (IRENA). For example, McKinsey research showed that sub-Saharan Africa power generation capacity is about 1.2 terawatts (excluding solar) and 10 terawatts or more (including solar). Current electricity demand in sub-Saharan Africa is only about 210 terawatt-hours (excluding South Africa – IEA). Arguably, potential energy generated from solar and wind can exceed sub-Saharan Africa demand in 2030 (Carbon brief).

Indeed, policy prescriptions to achieve SDG #7 have focused on improving energy efficiency (e.g., of the power plants and dams); and increasing significantly the share of renewable power in the African energy mix, while taking advantage of the falling costs of solar technologies and to some extent those of wind turbines. Off-grid options such as mini-grid and stand-alone systems powered by renewable energy such as solar, wind, sustainable biomass, hydro and geothermal are easily deployable in rural Africa and urban slums (UNDP).

5) Recommendations

A relevant question is: how do we attract large private investments into the energy sector in sub-Saharan Africa? A suitable answer should be evidence-informed, country-specific and or county-specific. In other words:

a) Better data on the climate (wind, solar and hydro), the earth (geothermal energy) and landfills (for sustainable biomass) should be made available for each country/county

b) Access to information offline and online related to relevant and affordable renewable energy technologies, and their installation and maintenance should be easier and cheaper.

This article was written by Hugue Nkoutchou

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