HomeIndustry SectorsFinance and PolicyAfrica’s power infrastructure seeks improvement before it can reap any benefit

Africa’s power infrastructure seeks improvement before it can reap any benefit

Sub-Saharan Africa is the proud holder of 7 out of the 10 fastest growing economies in the world. A significant contributor to this positive economic growth and development in Mozambique, Nigeria, DRC, Tanania, Uganda, Rwanda and Zambia is increasing access to electricity. However, with these relevant economies facing rapid increasing populations and poor infrastructures are a hindrance on continued progress.

“The problem of inadequate electricity supply is multifaceted: it includes a lack of generating capacity, rundown existing stock and limited transmission and distribution infrastructure,” according to the International Energy Agency’s 13 October Africa Energy Outlook report said AFKInsider reporter.

The report revealed that South Africa was in possession of half of the current grid-based power.

“In conversations with the major vendors of infrastructure, they say that they focus primarily on that Southern African area because that’s where the business is,” James McCray, senior research analyst with Navigant Research told AFKInsider.

According to the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) Africa Energy Outlook an estimated 620 million people residing in sub-Saharan Africa are without electricity.

The World Economic Forum released their Global Competitiveness Report 2014 – 2015 in September, revealing half of the 20 lowest ranking countries in the Global Competiveness Index (GCI) fall within sub-Saharan Africa: having some of the worst power infrastructure.

With unreliable and unstable electricity supply in Central Africa due to poor infrastructure, the International Energy Agency report was pleased to see 145 million people gaining access since 2000 in Nigeria, Ethiopia, South Africa, Ghana, Cameroon and Mozambique.

Electrifying Africa

The shocking reality of higher sub-Saharan countries not having infrastructure for transmissions grids was revealed by an author of August Navigant Research report, McCray. This was due to decades of neglect, lack of finance and incomplete construction.

McCray told AFKInsider that,“The thing that I thought was very interesting – I looked at country after country kind of going through the middle – and there would be hardly any transmission grid at all”.

Ben Gardner, president of Washington, D.C.-based market intelligence firm Northeast Group, told AFKInsider:

“The big issue with a lot of these countries in Africa is just a failure to collect money from utility customers. So, there’s a lot of power that’s being created but not being paid for”

Gardner stated that electric metering systems are imperative for the future survival of African power utilities. Climbing on the successful band-wagon of pre-paid electric meters, Gardner sees this model as South Africa’s way forward to tackle the issue of unpaid consumer bills.

Potential of Smart-Grid

According to the International Energy Agency, renewables will contribute 44 percent to sub-Saharan’s total power generation by 2040. The current grid will face challenges of utilising wind and solar energy which cannot meet peak time demand. As the energy supply will be intermittent combined with long distance transmission the current grid system is not advanced enough to strike an effective balance.

Extending utility scale transmission lines into remote rural communities calls for installing smart grids to ensure reliable energy supply.

Funding Infrastructure development

“Bringing the electrification rate in sub-Saharan Africa up from 32 percent today to 70 percent in 2040 is estimated to cost around $205 billion in capital investment, less than one-fifth of total power sector investment in the region,” according to the International Energy Agency report.

Sources reveal that China is a large contributor to African power investment, investing in about 30 percent of all new power projects. The $2 billion Africa Growing Together Fund supported by the African Development Bank is being funded by China.

“Nearly $10 billion is estimated to have flowed from China into the sub-Saharan energy sector from 2005-2011. Angola, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Nigeria received the greatest Chinese support”, the International Energy Agency report revealed.

Nicolette Pombo-van Zyl
Nicolette is the Editor of ESI Africa print journal, ESI-Africa.com and the annual African Power & Energy Elites. She is passionate about placing African countries on the international stage and is driven by the motto "The only way to predict the future is to create it". Join her in creating a sustainable future through articles and multimedia content.