WASHINGTON — Each year, the International Energy Agency releases its World Energy Outlook, or WEO, which presents a comprehensive overview of the energy sector of a specific country or region, and the potential future of that energy sector. In addition to the IEA’s 2014 WEO, the organization released a special report concerning the energy sector in sub-Saharan Africa and its potential outlook through 2040. The report comes at a time when access to electricity in sub-Saharan Africa has become a significant concern for President Barack Obama and U.S. policy makers.
Sub-Saharan Africa holds some of the largest untapped energy resources in the world in terms of both fossil fuels and renewable energy sources. However, according to the IEA, of the 915 million people who live in sub-Saharan Africa, only 215 million have access to electricity. Furthermore, those with access frequently experience shortages due to the unreliability of power grid infrastructure in most countries in the region.
Sub-Saharan Africa’s WEO contains four sections through which the IEA comes to the conclusion that a more ambitious, yet realistic plan, which it calls the African Century Case, is needed in order to meet international targets for increasing energy access in the region by 2040. The IEA warns that without expanding access to electricity and improving the energy infrastructure significant future economic and social development will be severely hindered.
The IEA predicts 950 million people in sub-Saharan Africa will gain access to electricity by 2040 as a result of current efforts to increase energy access on the continent. Rapid population growth in sub-Saharan Africa as predicted by a 2014 UNICEF report which sees the region’s population doubling by 2050 means that 530 million people will still lack access to electricity by 2040. By 2040 the number of people without electricity will decline by 15 percent as a result of current efforts to increase energy access on the continent.
Countries in Central Africa face the greatest challenges due to the relatively low level of energy infrastructure currently in place in the sub-region and the relatively high number of people that reside in rural rather than urban areas. Nigeria, according to the IEA, will bring the greatest increase in electricity access compared to all other countries in sub-Saharan Africa as 85 percent of Nigerians will have access to electricity by 2040.
Low population density creates greater challenges for countries as they try to increase access to electricity because people living in rural areas typically rely on off-grid or mini-grid systems. On-grid systems can only be extended so far from urban areas while remaining cost effective; therefore, in order to increase electricity access in rural areas new off-grid and mini-grid systems must be developed or extended.
Efforts to improve off-grid and mini-grid systems are vital to increasing energy access in sub-Saharan Africa because according to the IEA 80 percent of those without access to electricity in the region live in rural areas. As electricity access expands through on-grid systems in urban areas the proportion is expected to increase so that 90 percent of the people without electricity access by 2040 in Sub-Saharan Africa will live in rural areas.
In response to concerns, especially from the private sector, about the energy infrastructure in sub-Saharan Africa, President Obama announced in 2013 the Power Africa Initiative. Run by the U.S. Agency for International Development, also known as USAID, the Initiative seeks to add 30,000 megawatts of electricity capacity in sub-Saharan Africa over the next five years. This increase in capacity would provide 60 million new households access to electricity. Twelve U.S. government agencies and numerous actors from the private sector are currently working together to support 25 small-scale energy projects across the region through the Power Africa Initiative.
In 2014, the Initiative announced a sub-program specifically focused on expanding off-grid and mini-grid systems called Beyond the Grid. The new program was created due to 27 private sector investors who committed one billion dollars over the next five years purely for off-grid and mini-grid projects. Beyond the Grid is expected to provide 240 million new people in sub-Saharan Africa with access to electricity for the first time, thereby significantly reducing the proportion of people living in rural areas without access to power.
In addition to the President’s Initiative, during the 113th Congress both the House and Senate introduced bipartisan legislation which sought to address the energy access gap in sub-Saharan Africa. The Electrify Africa Act sought to add 20,000 megawatts of generation capacity by 2020 to the energy infrastructure in the region, which would provide 50 million new people with access to electricity. Its counterpart legislation in the Senate was introduced as the Energize Africa Act. While the Electrify Africa Act passed in the House, the Energize Africa Act failed to come to a vote in the Senate before the end of the 113th session.
As of the writing of this article neither piece of legislation has yet to be reintroduced in the 114th Congress.
– Erin Sullivan
Sources: CGDev, CBO, DEVEX, Economist, House Foreign Affairs 1, House Foreign Affairs 2, Huffington Post 1, Huffington Post 2, IEA, Senate Foreign Affairs, USAID 1, USAID 2, USAID 3, USAID 4, White House
Photo: Triple Pundit