There are 1.2 billion people on earth who live without electricity. Half of these people live in sub-Saharan Africa. They live day to day without access to the commonest convenience of turning on a switch to brighten their environment. They are stuck with tedious ways of making the simplest meals and their economic activities are restricted largely by sunrise and sunset. Access to quality healthcare and education is greatly limited because critical medicines and vaccines cannot be refrigerated and students have difficulty studying after dark.
Sub-Saharan African countries face significant power challenges which include:
- Untapped vast energy resources
- Underdeveloped power infrastructures
- Limited and unreliable electricity supply
- High costs (tarrifs) for power supply
- Poor access to on-grid electricity
According the World Bank, to put these key issues into perspective:
- Low access and insufficient capacity – Some 24 percent of the population of sub-Saharan Africa has access to electricity versus 40 percent in other low income countries outside Africa. Excluding South Africa, the entire installed generation capacity of sub-Saharan Africa is only 28 Gigawatts, equivalent to that of Argentina.
- Poor reliability – African manufacturing enterprises experience power outages on average 56 days per year. As a result, firms lose 6 percent of sales revenues in the informal sector. Where back-up generation is limited, losses can be as high as 20 percent.
- High costs – Power tariffs in most parts of the developing world fall in the range of US$0.04 to US$0.08 per kilowatt-hour. However, in Sub-Saharan Africa, the average tariff is US$0.13 per kilowatt-hour. In countries dependent on diesel-based systems, tariffs are higher still. Given poor reliability, many firms operate their own diesel generators at two to three times the cost with attendant environmental costs.
However, the story could be better. According to Power Africa Annual Report 2014, “it is estimated that there is enough solar and hydro power potential available in sub-saharan Africa to provide for a major portion of the region’s unmet energy needs. East Africa’s Rift Valley is estimated to have 15,000 MW of geothermal energy resources, enough to potentially power 30 million African households. Off the coast of Tanzania and Mozambique, discoveries of natural gas could total more than 100 trillion cubic feet, enough to power 100 million U.S households for 15 years. And the winds that blow through Kenya’s Lake Turkana plains offer clean, sustainable energy that can power hundreds of thousands of homes.”
Several attempts have been made so far to mitigate these problems:
- About 30 African countries have established independent electricity regulators
- Some countries have unbundled their state-owned utilities in order to enhance productivity (Examples are Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, Uganda).
- Most countries have enacted laws permitting private sector participation in power generation.
- Power Africa Initiative, a five-year multi-stakeholder partnership (launched in 2013) among the governments of the United States of America, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria and Tanzania as well as the private sectors in the US and Africa aimed at supporting economic growth and development by increasing access to reliable, affordable, and sustainable power in Africa.
Nonetheless, the main areas which concern electricity consumers are:
- Access to the grid
- Reliable, quality supply and service
- Competitively priced power tarrifs
African Energy Association, is committed to the following ideals towards transforming the situation:
- Advocate for a clear and consistent policy statement on energy access as a political priority across the region.
- Mobilize additional sources of finance to promote access by supporting key power infrastructure development projects.
- Enhanced private sector participation through negotiated subsidies to accelerate expansion of infrastructural development to remote areas.
- Promote a culture of quality decision-making for strategic infrastructure development across Africa. This will be based on availability of confirmed data and quantitative analysis of the actual scenerios of energy deficit and tested impacts of scalable interventions.
- Promote regional trade in sustainable power supply and eradicating the notion of the “dark continent” through transparent and credible regulatory framework.
- Enhance technology transfer to support operations readiness and reliability assurance.