Energy access in Africa

Under the theme “Delivering on Africa’s Promise”, the 23rd World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa will provide an important platform for regional and global leaders from business, government and civil society to deepen the continent’s integration agenda and renew commitment to a sustainable path of growth and development.

Sustainable energy products and services have the potential to improve the lives and productivity of millions of rural households and businesses across sub-Saharan Africa that have no access to electricity. Private investment will be necessary to develop this market, but businesses face serious challenges that can prevent profitability.

Marketing relatively expensive and unfamiliar technology across hundreds of miles of remote terrain is not easy. As part of a Development in Practice paper on sustainable energy access in Africa we explored innovative business models developed by companies funded by the Renewable Energy and Adaptation to Climate Change Technologies (REACT) window of the Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund (AECF).

Sustainable energy products and services

These businesses are testing out exciting new ways to overcome fundamental market challenges to bring sustainable energy to people in rural East Africa, with useful lessons to offer the renewables industry across the continent. Nearly 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa have no access to electricity, representing roughly 70% of the population.

Without access to electricity, businesses operate for fewer hours; vaccines can’t be kept cool; diesel generators eat away commercial budgets; food is wasted rather than stored; and the benefits of information technology are limited. Where firewood is the primary source of energy, deforestation is spreading at alarming rates.

Electricity access across sub-Saharan Africa

School children strain their eyes to complete homework by the flickering light of kerosene lamps. Those lamps also cause deadly fires. And traditional fuels such as kerosene, firewood, coal and charcoal, used to cook food and light homes, can lead to respiratory infections, chronic pulmonary disease, eye infections and lung cancer. The related effects of climate change are another ongoing concern.

While electricity access is improving in most emerging markets, the International Energy Agency (IEA) projects that the number of people without access in sub-Saharan Africa will actually increase by 11% to 655 million in 2030. Governments and development banks are working hard with the private sector in Africa to expand national grids and finance greater production capacity.

However, many people living in rural areas could be cut off from power for years still to come.

Screen Shot 2013-05-07 at 4.05.32 PMHow do you think sub-Saharan Africa will overcome the sustainable energy access issue in the years to come? Share your thoughts below…

About Rachel Keeler

Rachel manages impact and innovation matters for the IDAS Africa team. This includes capturing the impact of IDAS programmes, as well as researching best practice, industry innovations and development trends to keep IDAS at the cutting edge of development practice in emerging markets. Rachel has extensive experience in research and analysis of business, finance, investment and private sector-led development in sub-Saharan Africa with a focus on East Africa. She has an academic research background at the graduate level in international political economy and African development. Her analytical and research background also includes international journalism and business analysis. Her skills include quantitative and qualitative research, writing, editing and online publishing. Work experience includes independent consulting for various clients including the International Finance Corporation (IFC), Africa Investor, and the MENA Private Equity Association, as well as stints with the Financial Times and the US State Department, among others.

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