The continent faces a stark challenge of energy availability. More than 60% of the population has no access to electricity. Moreover, a lack of clean energy for cooking remains a challenge. Even those with access to power face severe power cuts triggered by load-shedding and faults. Both triggers can be traced back to infrastructural challenges, including a lack of adequate generation capacity and aging infrastructure.
According to the World Bank’s State Of Access To Modern Energy Cooking Services Report, only 10 percent of sub-Saharan Africa has access to modern sources of cooking energy.
The effect of this inadequacy creates a ripple effect of problems. In terms of health, people are affected by diseases such as respiratory illnesses born out of using unclean energy sources.
Further, the environment suffers. In order to obtain firewood for cooking and other purposes, people are forced to cut down trees, often most indiscriminately. In most cases, either due to a lack of education or unwillingness, there is no effort to replace those trees.
Additionally, there is a significant loss of productive time. The majority of work time involves collecting firewood and other energy sources as opposed to actual productive work. Furthermore, the lack of lights means that people have to call it a day early, which is a disadvantage, especially for school-going children.
Insufficient power generation capabilities plague several countries. This, coupled with increasing populations places an additional strain on the power grid, which most nations fail to meet. Also, in most countries, energy provision is solely the state’s responsibility, and there are no private players involved directly in energy production and dissemination. While this is meant to maintain energy provision as a public good in order to protect the poor, is creates a throttling bottleneck on electricity supply.
In some cases, privatization of power authorities has aided in improving efficiencies; however, there are still insufficiencies.
Another challenge that most African countries face is rapid urbanization, which places further demand on an already strained energy grid.
The Role of Energy In Development
Recognizing the need for energy, Sustainable Development Goal #7 focuses on achieving universal access to electricity and clean fuels for cooking.
This is because access to energy plays a crucial role in development objectives. Without adequate access to energy, Africans are forced to resort to more expensive and unclean energy sources like generators to power businesses. This, in effect, raises the cost of operation as the cost of energy is significantly higher.
For energy-demanding businesses, sporadic access to energy results in failure to operate, drastically cutting into productive capacity.
Provision of adequate healthcare is restricted when there is no energy. Power cuts in the middle of surgical operations, inability to administer oxygen or store medicines significantly hampers healthcare. All these are realities faced when there is no electricity.
In addition, modern farming methods have a higher energy demand and are also affected by the loss of power.
Energy and GDP are directly linked. Energy access drives GDP, and a rising GDP reciprocates by spurring energy provision further. This is because electricity and clean energy improve standards of living significantly. Once people can shift their focus from menial tasks like looking for power, they can improve on productive activities that stimulate GDP.
Further, electricity availability increases economic opportunities. For example, the digital world has opened up opportunities for business within and outside of the continent. Without adequate access to electricity, a sizeable number of would-be innovations and business ideas are lost or at best, stunted.
Capacity and the Funding Gap
Africa has a significant generational capacity of more than ten terawatts, as indicated in a McKinsey report. While there are resources, there is a huge funding gap to facilitate the exploitation of these resources.
The World Bank’s report puts the estimated funding needs at $150 billion each year to reach universal access to energy by 2030. The Energizing Finance: Missing The Mark 2020 report by Sustainable Energy For All (SEforALL), which tracks countries in Asia and Africa, found that between 2013 and 2018, $32 billion flowed into the energy sector in thirteen countries. This is a far cry from the expected requirement each year. This, in effect, means that the funding gap is widening rather than reducing.
The SEforALL report further notes that there is a lag between projects and financing commitments, meaning the figures on paper are sometimes very different from those on the ground. Among the reasons for this lag include:
Stifling administrative processes
In some instances, strict bureaucratic policies marred by corruption hinder the funding process by development partners and other organizations. The time it takes to clear projects deters potential funders from making commitments.
Local financial sector weakness
Streamlining the access to energy finance is, in some cases, not a possibility given the weak access to financial services in several countries.
Ending Energy Poverty
To bring an end to the challenges of energy on the continent, it will take a firm commitment at individual country level to improve efficiencies in energy production and utilization. Government, foreign partners, the private sector, and households have the potential to collectively turn the situation around.
Streamlining administrative processes and prioritizing energy production is a necessity. Through public-private partnerships, the private sector and government can take a significant initiative in improving energy provision. The government also has a principal role to play in creating an environment conducive to foster innovation.
Off the grid, solar power solutions can ease pressure on the national grid and contribute to improved energy access. If these off-grid solutions can be harnessed at community levels, it would create significant traction to end energy poverty.
Investment in clean energy research and community education is crucial. WHO reports indicate that close to 600,000 Africans die from illnesses caused by emissions from cooking fuels every year. It is essential now more than ever to focus attention on clean energy.
Lastly, the continent has significant renewable energy sources. The generation of energy is a critical step towards achieving economic growth. The economic revival of the continent can only be realized if the energy crisis is put to bed.