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Bridging the Energy Infrastructure Gap in Africa

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Picture: EPA/NIC BOTHMA A general view at dawn of the Jeffreys Bay Wind Farm in South Africa 8 July 2016. Located on the outskirts of Jeffreys Bay in the Eastern Cape the Jeffreys Bay Wind Farm is an ideal wind energy resource spanning 3700 hectares due to its optimal wind conditions, relatively flat topography, minimal environmental constraints.

By Clara Nwadinigwe

Despite having a combined population of over one billion, the 48 nations that make up Sub-Saharan Africa currently produce as much power as Spain.

Addressing issues such as this necessitates an expansion and diversification of the continent’s energy infrastructure and capacity. This will also take significant funding and a re-evaluation of what energy access entails to fill the massive power gap.

Already, the Western part of the continent is working towards a single infrastructure for energy distribution in the form of the West African Power Pool (WAPP) and increasing grid connectivity among member nations.

In the East, the Eastern Africa Power Pool (EAPP) is making great strides to facilitate the provision of reliable, affordable, and sustainable electrical energy for all in the region. Ethiopia, for instance, has completed the third filling of its 6,450 MW hydropower project, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) which is deemed to aid domestic electrification and development.

Angola, which is located further South, is building seven big solar farms that will employ approximately a million solar panels to produce 370MW of electricity accessible to both urban and rural areas. Although infrastructure deficit may be the major roadblock to Africa’s long-term prosperity, bridging the gap offers investors a chance to fund valuable projects such as the afore-mentioned ones and other kinds of tangible infrastructure assets, including ports, power plants, and hospitals.

Realistically, no single organisation can meet these investment and funding needs alone due to their immense size; governments across the continent must therefore increase their participation in Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) and promote sustainable debt capital markets. In this fashion, they are able to raise money in large amounts, scaling from billions to trillions.

The private sector’s involvement and investments, which could possibly accelerate energy availability, are, however, hampered by a number of constraints. These range from the absence of an enabling policy environment for investors to cultural impediments, inappropriate risk allocation and other structural bottlenecks that intensify project costs. Overcoming these hurdles will make it possible to mobilise private sector resources and establish the optimum environment for investments on the continent.

Africa’s sustainable development depends on resolving the infrastructure deficit; hence it should be given top priority. Apart from the fact that enhanced intra-regional and international trade, lower operating costs, and increased competitiveness of the Continent will all be facilitated by improved infrastructure, it will help to restructure and diversify Africa’s economy.

Nwadinigwe is an advocate for energy systems integration.

This article was written exclusively for The African. To republish, see terms and conditions.