Policy intervention required to address energy access in sub-Saharan Africa

Turning Science On: Improving Access to Energy in sub-Saharan Africa, that will be launched at the opening ceremony of the Sixth Annual Meeting of the African Science Academy Development Initiative (ASADI) in the Western Cape on 8 November 2010.

Access to energy in sub-Saharan Africa is the lowest in the world, even though Africa has significant energy resources in the form of oil, gas, coal, hydro and renewable energy. Africa, and sub-Saharan Africa in particular, is characterised by some dramatic statistics:

Some 585 million people or approximately 70 percent of the population do not have access to electricity, while in some countries, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi and Uganda, over 90 percent of the population has no access to electricity.

The entire installed power capacity in the region is 68 GW, comparable to that of Spain and 10 percent of that of Latin America. If South Africa is excluded, installed capacity falls to only 28 GW.

Adding to the dismal situation is the fact that up to a quarter of this capacity is unavailable due to poor maintenance, while growth in new power capacity is largely stagnant.  Furthermore, projections of current growth rates shows that more people in sub-Saharan Africa will be without access to electricity in 2030 than there were in 2006 because of relatively greater population growth rates.

The book calls on policy-makers in Africa to address access to modern energy services, since energy is central to most aspects of human welfare, including access to water, agricultural productivity, health care, education, job creation, climate change and environmental sustainability.

“By addressing access to modern energy services, policy-makers can prevent thousands of deaths in their country, alleviate poverty, improve education and contribute  to the achievement of the MDGs.”

The publication highlights four areas where policy intervention is required to improve access to electricity in sub-Saharan Africa. State-owned power utilities are still dominant in the region and there is an urgent need for them to undergo governance reform as they are not performing well.

Increasing private sector investment in the power sector is also vital. There are more than 40 Independent Power Producers (IPPs) across Africa that produce a total of 8 000 MW of power. Further small IPPs must be encouraged to connect to the grid.

The most effective way to increase electrification is to connect densely populated urban areas first and then rural growth centres where demand is expected to increase. In these areas national grid electrification tends to be more effective and less expensive than off-grid or mini-grid systems that often use other technologies. Mini-grids are more cost effective in remote rural areas which are far away from the nearest grid points.

Expanded regional electricity trade, in which electricity is generated in countries with relatively low costs of production from large hydro, gas and geothermal schemes, and transmitted to countries where power is more expensive, would expand access to electricity.

The publication focuses specifically on the seven ASADI countries (Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Uganda), as well as three southern African countries (Mauritius, Mozambique and Zimbabwe) that were included as part of an academy development initiative of ASSAf.

The full publication is available on www.assaf.org.za


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