Clean Energy 4 Africa
  • August 5, 2019
  • Mohamed Alhaj
  • 1

The sub-saharan Africa region has one of the lowest electricity access rates globally; 43% according to the World Bank (i.e, approximately 600 million people dont have reliable electricity). Not only does a low energy access rate hinder sustainable development, but it also results in several socioeconomic problems.

So why is electricity access low in this region? Is it a question of low geographic coverage of the electric grid due to high capital expenditures? Or is it because connection costs are too high for households in grid-covered areas? Or something else? And where does off-grid solar fit within all of this?

A recent report by The World Bank investigated this issue in depth and highlighted that demand side challenges are as important, if not more, than supply side. This is demonstrated by the low “uptake rate” in several countries in this region (the percentage of households located near the grid but not connected to it). The uptake rate (or grid connection rate) of households located near a grid in 20 countries survyed in sub-saharan Africa is only 57%.

Several factors need to addressed here as highlighted in the report; namely: customer’s “willingness to pay”, grid connection cost, reliability and predictability of income, and building standards. In addition, the profitability of utilities has to be considered carefully. The report emphasizes that the low electricity consumption rates in sub-saharan Africa and the low electricity tariffs make it difficult for utilizes to profit.

The report also highlights that off-grid solar solutions and mini-grids can be utilized to boost access, but this must be directed primarily towards productive uses such as farming and small enterprises and to achieve higher tiers of electrification (Tiers 4 and 5).

Read the full report here: https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/handle/10986/31333/9781464813610.pdf?sequence=6&isAllowed=y

Mohamed Alhaj

Dr. Mohamed Alhaj is a Sudanese renewable energy engineer and researcher with a strong interest in the role of clean energy in Africa's sustainable development.

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