The future of electricity supply and delivery on the continent of Africa represents one of the thorniest challenges facing professionals in the global energy, economics, finance, environmental, and philanthropic communities.
Roughly 600 million people in Africa lack any access to electricity. If this deficiency is not solved, extreme poverty for many Africans is virtually assured for the foreseeable future, as it is widely recognized that economic advancement cannot be achieved in the 21st Century without good electricity supply. Yet, if Africa were to electrify in the same manner pursued in developed economies around the world during the 20th Century, the planet’s global carbon budget would be vastly exceeded, greatly exacerbating the worldwide damages from climate change.
Moreover, due to low purchasing power in most African economies and fiscal insolvency of most African utilities, it is unclear exactly how the necessary infrastructure investments can be deployed to bring ample quantities of power – especially zero-carbon power – to all Africans, both those who currently are unconnected to any grid as well as those who are now served by expensive, high-emitting, limited and unreliable electricity supply.
With the current population of 1.3 billion people expected to double by 2050, the above-noted challenges associated with the African electricity sector may well get substantially worse than they already are – unless new approaches to infrastructure planning, development, finance and operation can be mobilized and propagated across the continent.
This paper presents a summary of the present state and possible futures for the African electricity sector. A synthesis of an ever-growing body of research on electricity in Africa, this paper aims to provide the reader a thorough and balanced context as well as general conclusions and recommendations to better inform and guide decision-making and action.