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Access to electricity key for Africa’s development

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Danielle Kruger
Danielle Kruger
Daniëlle is an IT and tech journalist focused on gaming, gadgets and emerging technologies in a number of key industries.
Access to electricity key for Africa’s development
Vera Songwe, Executive Secretary, Economic Commission for Africa (Image Credit: United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA)

Nearly 600 million, or 48% of Africa’s population, still lack access to electricity, with the majority living in rural areas

Africa will not fully develop if hundreds of millions of its people continue to live without electricity, Economic Commission for Africa’s Executive Secretary, Vera Songwe said Thursday.

Addressing a Res4Africa business-to-government high-level workshop on accelerating the renewable energy transition in Ethiopia, Ms Songwe said energy was at the heart of development and access to electricity would lift productivity within and across sectors.

“Right now the continent is moving towards the game-changing African Continental Free Trade Agreement where collectively we can wield the strength of the African continent better than we can individually by trading more with each other but the AfCFTA requires production which requires energy,” she said.

For instance, the ECA Chief said, nearly 600 million, or 48% of Africa’s population, still lack access to electricity, with the majority living in rural areas. It is projected that roughly the same number of people will not have access by 2030.

“This is the case despite the fact that there was additional electricity access to 26 million Africans between 2012 and 2016,” said Ms Songwe, adding it was disheartening that nearly 848 million, or 72 per cent of Africa’s population lack clean cooking solutions with 90 per cent or more relying on biomass for heat energy.

Innovation on the ground, she said, so far is encouraging, though the pace needs to pick up as the continent tries to address its power challenges. Boosting access to electricity through innovation and better regulation was crucial, the ECA Chief added.

“Africa has to act fast and now to increase the number of people with access to electricity. We have to quadruple our efforts on energy if we are to achieve sustainable development goals and Agenda 2063. Without energy we cannot have the development that we so yearn for,” said Ms Songwe.

“We need to enact policies and regulations that can quickly enhance the enabling environment for deployment of renewable energy programmes in Africa and make it easy for the private sector to play its role in helping accelerate the energy transition on the continent.”

For his part, Frehiwot Woldehanna, State Minister for Water, Irrigation and Energy in Ethiopia, shared efforts by his country to increase the number of people with access to electricity. This includes five new hydro and solar projects that were approved end of 2019, and the new tariff system he said aims to expand access by all to power.

In line with the government’s climate resilient green economy strategy, harnessing renewable energy resources was the top priority, he said.

“We cannot continue to have a situation where our women and girls spend most of their productive time fetching firewood and water,” Minister Woldehanna said, adding the country had made significant gains in its efforts to address power shortages.

Roberto Vigotti, Secretary General of Res4Africa, emphasized the importance of accelerating the renewable energy transition not only in Ethiopia but Africa as a whole.

RES4Africa contributes to building sustainable energy partnerships on the continent with a “bottom-up” approach able to propose solutions customized to local contexts. The organization encourages the setting-up of partnership formulas aiming to provide decision makers with the viewpoint of the private sector and in the process stimulating investment opportunities.

Lack of sufficient power generation capacity, poor transmission and distribution infrastructure, high costs of supply to remote areas, or simply a lack of affordability for electricity, are among the biggest hurdles for affecting Africa’s desire to extend grid-based electricity.

Edited by Daniëlle Kruger
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