Ethiopia/DRC/Morocco: Who is meeting Africa’s power challenge?

By Arthur Beaubois-Jude

Posted on Friday, 18 March 2022 19:11, updated on Sunday, 20 March 2022 15:53
REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

600 million Africans either do not have access to electricity or suffer from recurrent load shedding, particularly south of the Sahara and in rural areas. Why is that? How can we get out of this situation? Is Africa condemned to rely on fossil fuels to produce its energy? Find out more in our visual overview.

“The continent needs electricity. The continent needs to develop its natural resources. We expect Europe to show solidarity on this point.” Speaking at the African Union -European Union summit in Brussels on 17 February, Senegal’s President Macky Sall did not mince his words when he stressed the urgent need to carry out electrification work on the continent.

The current AU President knows that this is a titanic challenge in Africa, where 600 million people (out of 771 million inhabitants) do not have access to electricity.

Unavoidable fossil fuels

And although major efforts have been made in the renewable energy sector – particularly in Senegal, where he himself has inaugurated several solar power stations in recent years – Sall added that, for the time being, Africa cannot do without fossil fuels. “We are in favour of maintaining funding for the gas industry and hydrocarbons, for a fair and equitable energy transition, taking into account the continent’s specific needs and constraints,” he said to his European partners.

The situation on the continent is – to say the least – mixed. For example, the Maghreb countries, which are close to 100% access rates, South Africa, where 85% of the population is connected to the network, and states such as Niger and the DRC, which struggle to exceed 20%, have nothing in common.

There are not only inequalities between nations, but also between urban and rural areas. In the least connected regions – or those that suffer from recurrent load shedding due to a lack of sufficiently stable production – the use of diesel-powered generators is almost systematic.

Current production, which is far below the continent’s real needs, is 80% based on non-renewable energy. In some countries, almost all of it depends on hydrocarbons or coal, such as in Algeria (99%) and South Africa (90%). However, the tide is slowly turning. The strategy of strengthening the energy mix has given rise to new infrastructure, such as the Noor solar power plant in Ouarzazate, Morocco.

Networks to be improved and interconnected

The International Energy Agency also stresses the need to exploit the continent’s enormous hydroelectric potential. Ethiopia, which began operating the Renaissance Dam on 20 February – the commissioning of which raises many geopolitical questions – depends on a 100% renewable source of electricity.

But this example also shows that increasing production is not enough, as the country is experiencing overproduction, not because of insufficient demand, but due to a lack of energy transport infrastructure.

The lack of coherent and interconnected networks prevents inter-state transfers and rural areas from being supplied. This inadequate infrastructure, along with high fuel prices and low investment, are leading to some of the highest tariffs in the world.

How can the continent get out of this rut? Who are the good and bad performers in power generation? Are African countries condemned to resort to fossil fuels to make up for the delay in electrification? All the answers can be found below.  

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