Around the world, 1.2 billion people live without access to electricity. Half of them are in sub-Saharan Africa. Africa trails the rest of the world in terms of access to electricity by a huge margin. In 2014, less than half the population of the continent had electrical power. Everywhere else, the equivalent figure has now passed 90 percent. If the region is to continue the strong pace of economic growth it has achieved since the end of the 1990s, better access to energy, especially electrical power, will be essential.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) expects demand for electricity in sub-Saharan Africa to rise considerably faster than the region’s GDP growth for at least the next 25 years. Fulfilling that demand will require electricity production in the region to increase by a factor of more than three by 2040 to 1,300 terawatt hours.
Africa’s energy challenge isn’t all about resources. The continent has plenty of coal, gas and oil, for example. What it lacks is generation capacity and, just as importantly, the transmission and distribution infrastructure to deliver that power to the homes and businesses where it is needed most. Progress in building that infrastructure has been painfully slow. Between 1990 and 2010, the fraction of the region’s population with access to electricity increased by only 0.2 percentage points a year, as new energy investments struggled to keep up with overall population growth.