a far from the bright future

Despite recent gains, more people in Africa live without electricity than elsewhere

In terms of access to energy, Africa’s figures are markedly unimpressive. Nearly 75% of the world’s 789 million people who lack electricity live, according to a report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) of October 2020, and of the 2.6 billion people who do not have access to clean cooking, 900 million in Africa. While rural electrification in other parts of the world is higher than 70%, in sub-Saharan Africa it is just over 20%.

However, there has been progress. According to the IEA, the number of people on the continent without access to electricity, which stood at 610 million in 2013, dropped to about 580 million in 2019. However, the profits are overshadowed by the African ballooning population, and many remain without access to power. “In recent decades, access to electricity in Africa has not been comparable to its booming population, and it denies the pursuit of development milestones,” said Ubong Edet, director of Open Policy, a development-oriented civic group in Abuja, Nigeria.

Most African countries ‘efforts to significantly increase their citizens’ access to electricity over the years have largely failed, hampered by policy errors, poor funding, corruption and sometimes instability. The result is a dysfunctional power sector that cannot create economic activities that create jobs, and support education and health services. Only an estimated 28% of health institutions in sub-Saharan Africa have access to reliable electricity, according to a United Nations initiative by Powering Healthcare.

The IEA says unless there is significant improvement in investment and policies, Africa will surely fail to meet the Global Sustainable Development Goal of 2030 (SDG7), which seeks to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all. The current policy tracks will see 530 million Africans without electricity in the next decade, it reads.

“Despite progress in several countries, the current and planned efforts to provide access to modern energy services are hardly surpassing population growth,” the agency said.

This is an irony for a continent that has the most raw energy, hydro, solar, oil, gas, coal and geothermal resources. Despite having more solar resources than any other region, Africa has only five gigawatts of solar photovoltaic – less than 1% of the installed global capacity, says the IEA.

The bulk of the region’s energy shortages are in sub – Saharan Africa, with Nigeria, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Uganda and Tanzania accounting for the largest number of people without electricity.

Years of efforts by African governments have, for various reasons, failed to deliver the energy the continent needs. The first is the funding gap. The IEA estimates that sub-Saharan Africa needs US $ 35 billion a year to secure access to electricity by 2030, and only a few countries have been able to mobilize enough money locally for their energy projects. Ethiopia, for example, recently collected 8 billion beers from an expected 12 billion beers (about $ 550 million) for its Grand Renaissance hydroelectric dam through domestic and diaspora tires.

Corruption is another factor. The anti-corruption group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, said Nigeria had spent more than $ 30 billion over the past two decades, but only managed to generate less than 7,000 megawatts of electricity, far less than the more than 200 million citizens needed. Successive administrations are said to have ‘squandered’ the enormous amount without matching.

There is also a policy challenge. As poor governance and the lack of political will joined the electrification trend in the post-independence days, many African countries led to unrealistic (or failed) energy projects. In contrast, during the same period, Asia accelerated its electrification and achieved the largest decrease in the number of people without electricity worldwide between 2010 and 2018.

Africa’s modest improvement was in East Africa. Here, Kenya, Ethiopia and Tanzania were responsible for more than half of those accessing electricity, according to the Alliance for Rural Electrification in Brussels. In Kenya, access to electricity tripled within five years to 75% in 2018, as the country supplemented grid connections with solar and geothermal systems.

Even with such progress, as of July 2020, there was only one country in Africa – Gabon – ‘on course’ to achieve SDG7, according to an analysis by the Sustainable Development Goals Center for Africa and the Sustainable Development Solutions Network. Twenty-two countries “increased moderately”, 28 stagnated while three countries “decreased”.

African countries look more on track to achieve the more protracted African Union’s own goal that by 2063 wants to harness all “energy sources in Africa to ensure modern, efficient, reliable, cost-effective, renewable and environmentally friendly energy for all African households. , businesses, industries and institutions. “

“Africa will have to raise its funding and action plans if it is ever to meet the rest of the world in development,” said Edet of Open Policy.

Access to electricity in Africa is also hampered by affordability and reliability. The unit cost of electricity for consumers in many African countries is more than double the cost in developed countries such as the United States, according to a joint review by Agence française de développement and the World Bank.

Even in cases where power is available, households also spend hours without power. In 25 of the 29 countries in Africa surveyed by a World Bank report, less than one-third of businesses have reliable access to electricity. Things worked relatively better in Liberia, Namibia and South Sudan than in Nigeria, Kenya, Mali and Tanzania, the report said.

Solving Africa’s energy problem requires proper financing and policy adjustment. Experts believe renewable projects outside the grid, such as solar power, should be the energy future of Africa because it is cheaper and does not require expensive connections to the national grid, especially since the majority of the population lives in rural areas.

First, African countries will have to double their investment rate in their power sectors over the next two decades to bring reliable electricity to all Africans, the IEA said. The agency recommends an annual investment of about $ 120 billion to bring electricity to everyone in Africa.

“We are talking about 2.5% of GDP that should go into the power sector,” Laura Cozzi, the IEA’s chief energy model, said in November 2019. “India has been doing this for the last twenty years. China has been doing that. So, that’s something that can be done.”

Given the cost, the agency recommends using more mini-grids and should pay more attention to the great potential that solar, wind, hydropower and natural gas offer.

Despite evidence that solar and wind could provide cheaper and more environmentally friendly options to expand electricity in Africa, a number of African countries are shifting to nuclear energy. They cite the threat to hydropower and argue that nuclear power can provide reliable support for renewable energy such as solar and wind.

In addition to South Africa, which has the only nuclear power plant in Africa, Ghana, Morocco, Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Niger, Tunisia, Algeria, Zambia, Uganda and Sudan have considered consuming nuclear energy, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Norbert Edomah, an energy expert and senior lecturer at Pan-Atlantic University Lagos, says countries need to choose options that work best for them and consider ‘contextual energy geography’.

“What works in East Africa may not work in West Africa,” he told Africa in Fact. Edomah advised policymakers to pay attention to ‘providing energy for productivity’.

“The question that is asked is what do people use energy for? In what way can we provide energy to improve livelihoods? Things that focus on livelihoods and productivity are what we need to focus on,” he said.

There is an immediate limitation. The IEA fears that the COVID-19 pandemic could delay years of progress in expanding access to electricity. It says governments need to address the immediate public health and economic crisis, but that their utilities are likely to face severe financial pressure. Increased poverty levels worldwide by 2020 could also make basic electricity services unaffordable.

But Damilola Ogunbiyi, chief executive and special representative of the UN Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL) and co-chair of UN Energy, said the pandemic also provided an opportunity that could be used.

In June 2020, Ogunbiyi issued a statement announcing the launch of SEforAll’s Recover Better with Sustainable Energy Guide for African countries: “COVID-19 has changed the world as we know it. As countries rebuild economies from the impact of the pandemic, they are confronted with a unique opportunity to ‘recover better’ with sustainable energy

“There has never been a better time to invest in clean, efficient renewable energy. Countries that recover better with sustainable energy will bear fruit in the form of resilient economies, new jobs and faster energy development. By investing this making countries can develop a competitive advantage. ‘

Ini Ekott is the Assistant Managing Editor (News) at Premium Times, an online newspaper in Abuja, Nigeria. For this, he reported for Next, an investigative newspaper in Lagos. He has written for IPS Africa and other publications and is a former Wole Soyinka investigative journalist of the year.

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