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Electricity in Africa - Overview

Over a hundred years after the commercial light bulb was invented by Thomas Edison, nearly 600 million people in Africa are still deprived access to basic electric power.

While northern Africa is virtually entirely electrified (excluding Sudan), more than two thirds of the population in sub-Saharan Africa have no access to electricity, with that number rising to more than 85 percent in more rural areas.

Improving the availability and quality of electrical power in the sub-Saharan region is widely held as one of the most pressing challenges for delivering sustainable economic growth, and through this alleviating poverty, in the region.

Africa currently has 147 Gigawatt of installed capacity, with average per capita electricity consumption in sub-Saharan Africa (excluding South Africa) standing at just 153 kWh per annum.  Electricity blackouts occur on a daily basis in 30 out of 48 of the Sub-Saharan countries and it is estimated that blackouts and poor power quality costs more than 5% of GDP in Malawi, Uganda and South Africa, and 1 to 5% in Senegal, Kenya and Tanzania. Faced with unreliable power, people and enterprises in the region often have to rely on expensive off-grid diesel power generation to meet their electricity needs. It is calculated that 50% of the power generation capacity in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Mauritania, and 17% in West Africa is derived from off-grid resources.

In the coming decades it is predicted that the population of Africa will grow faster than the global average, per capita energy use will increase and the energy mix will have to transition to modern fuels. These three factors will put tremendous pressure on Africa’s already struggling energy sector. Recent regional studies suggests that the continent will need to add around 250 Gigawatt of capacity over the next 15 or so years to meet anticipated demand.

With the region having significant potential to develop clean, geothermal, hydro, wind, and solar energy, the magnitude of the investment required in generation capacity and transmission infrastructure is colossal and can only really be achieved by local governments attracting private investment for public-private power generation partnerships. While the recent “Power Africa initiative”, announced by US President Obama in June 2013, is designed to encourage private investment in regional generation capacity, many commentators question whether the regional business environments and policy frameworks are sufficiently robust to attract and maintain the level of private investment essential for delivering by 2030 the additionally required 250 Gigawatt of generation capacity.

Moving forward the challenges faced in the African power sector are huge. With frequent outages, regular brown-outs, low electricity connections and ever rising electricity tariffs, the quality and availability of power is today, and likely to be for the foreseeable future, one of the biggest limiting factors to sustained economic growth and future prosperity in the region.

Please click on the relevant link below to view a country’s report