Energy in Africa is a scarce commodity than in the developed world. Electrical provisioning in Africa has generally only reached wealthy, urban middle class, and commercial sectors, bypassing the regions large rural populations and urban poor. According to the forum of Energy Ministers of Africa, most agriculture still relies primarily on humans and animal energy input. The electrical industry in Africa faces the economic paradox that raising prices will prohibit access to their services, but that they can afford to roll.
Overall rates of access to Energy in Africa have held constant since the 80’s, while the rest of the developing world has seen electrical grid distribution increase by 20%. Moreover, Africa has had an average electrification rate of 24%, while the rate in the rest of the developing world lies closer to 40%. Even in the areas covered by the electrical grid, power is often unreliable: the manufacturing sector loses power on average 56 days out of the year. Frequent power outages cause damage to sales, equipment, and discourage international investments. According to the Periodical African Business, Poor transport links and irregular power supplies have stunted the growth of domestic companies and discouraged foreign firms from setting up manufacturing plants in the continent.
General challenges Africa face in the Energy sector
Two out of three people living in Africa do not have electricity in their homes. If we continue on the current trajectory, it will take until 2080 for there to be universal electricity access on the continent. Another generation of young people will miss the opportunity that access to electricity in the home can bring.
Compared to other parts in the world, energy deprivation or the lack of access to energy is most prevalent by far in Africa .70% of the population in Africa is without electricity access, 50%of businesses view a lack of reliable electricity access as a major constraint to doing business, power outages cost countries in Africa 1-2% of the GDP annually, and Africa’s poorest pay 80 times more for electricity they do in the developed worlds.
Some of these resources are un-evenly distributed. The performance of the power sector has generally been below expectations in addition to low levels of electricity throughout the region; the sector is tenaciously erratic and intermittent supply, low capacity utilization and availability, deficient maintenance and high transmission and distribution losses.
Most power utilities in Africa are not commercially viable as they charge tariffs that bare below cost to promote access to energy by the poor majority.as a result, the utilities are not able to mobilize external capital for maintenance and expansion projects.
The reform in the power sector initiated in the late 90’s to improve operational and technical performance and ultimately to attract private investments have not yielded the expected results. Attracting private sector involvement has dominated the focus of the power sector reform orientation, thereby prioritizing profit while neglecting the need to electrify rural areas and poor urban neighborhoods. Its recognized that on the account of climate change, many African countries will face water scarcity, worsened health, lessened food security and may even affect Africa’s greatest renewable energy resource, hydropower. As a result the economic and social development will slow down or even reversed.
Why Solar could be the answer to Africa’s Energy needs
With Africa facing all the above challenges in the energy sector it would also offer a huge opportunity to target the scarce investment into clean, efficient and renewable technologies for ensuring sustainable energy supplies.
Solar as a source of energy will be able to reach more than 600 million people without electricity in Africa with the traditional systems which will be a lengthy effort. Vast rural areas will have no realistic chances of being connected for decades. This will accelerate the development of the emerging solar market in Africa. Africa can also have access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy by 2030. This may overcome hurdles and the series of the market failures that are preventing firms from raising capital by testing new approaches and reaching the poorest.
Solar energy should be harnessed in Africa for its diverse applications, low maintenance costs, technology development, easy installation, can be used in remote locations, and low electricity bills and for its renewability.
Written by Amina Martha.