Revolutionising the energy debate

Discussion ought to steer the continent towards a low carbon energy future


By TNLM Writer

The International Energy Agency puts the current electrification rate in sub-Saharan Africa at just 43 percent. The inference here is clear: greater action must be taken to achieve the international community’s goals of universal electricity access.

Although there are positive developments taking place across the continent, there are also a number of key challenges that beset transformation of the sector.

Energy outlook

Sub-Saharan Africa currently has a total installed generation capacity of 122 gigawatts (GW), and accounts for 4.5 percent of global primary energy demand (the equivalent of 619 million tonnes of oil) according to the IEA 2017 report. Three-quarters of the generated capacity is fossil fuel-based, with coal accounting for 35%. Renewables make up about a quarter of the total capacity, with large-scale hydropower accounting for the remainder.

Half the region’s primary demand is for solid biomass for mainly household cooking, while coal and oil meet a third of the demand. South Africa has the largest demand for coal for power generation, while roughly 2 million barrels of oil per day is evenly distributed across the region. Renewables contribute 18 percent, and natural gas around four percent.

Energy Transformation on the continent

“Access to energy is critical for Africa’s development, which is why it forms one of five priorities for the continent,” says Fred Kabanda, Chief oil sector regulatory officer, African Natural Resources Centre, African Development Bank (AfDB). “With power, the other four priorities – food security, industrialisation, integration and improving the quality of life – will be fulfilled. If the extractives are managed well, they will contribute to meeting all five of these priorities.”

Extractives (oil, gas and mineral) currently contribute over 70% of the electricity generated in Africa. For countries using coal as a main energy source, there is a need to use improved technology to reduce the effects of pollution.

With the cost of renewable energy technologies decreasing, it makes sense for Sub-Saharan leaders to focus on energy efficient technologies as a means of delivering power to their people. Extractives, however, still have a role to play on the continent. Natural gas is emerging as a popular clean energy source, as are renewables like solar, wind and hydro, which will continue to significantly rely on minerals for manufacture of the required parts for the electricity generation.

Says Kabanda, “While extractives will still be important in Africa’s electricity future, there may need to emphasise more on environmental aspects. Many African countries have recently discovered extractive resources, and they are planning on using these to generate electricity and other products for themselves and their neighbours.”

Enabling innovation

Innovation in this sector is important for both on- and off-grid solutions, and there are many opportunities for private independent power producers to accelerate supply across Sub-Saharan Africa. The regulatory environment needs to be addressed, and an enabling environment, supported by the right policies, infrastructure, planning and incentives fostered.

According to the AfDB, population growth, coupled with the steady economic growth, continues to create demand for energy in Africa. Governments have different priorities and where private sector can play a role, it is encouraged on the main. This has led to many IPPs investing in Africa’s electricity sector.

Governments need to create a conducive investment climate to continue attracting the IPPs. On the other hand, IPPs must continue to produce power using energy sources and technologies that can avail affordable power tariffs for the countries. (



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