ENERGY ACCESS, a key to Africa’s economic development

By Zivayi Chiguvare
February 2014
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Man needs energy for growth and maintenance of their life. Man looks for energy to provide the basic needs of food and thermal comfort, from birth until death. Energy is mainly used for food production, transportation and preparation, and for the provision of thermally comfortable conditions for human survival, as well as for lighting. 


Electricity has emerged as one of the most important forms of energy in modern life. According to the Energy Poverty Action initiative of the World Economic Forum “Access to energy is fundamental to improving quality of life and is a key imperative for economic development.”


In the developing world, energy poverty is still rife. Nearly 1.6 billion people still have no access to electricity (about 590 million of them in Africa), according to the International energy Agency (IEA)”. “A person is in ‘energy poverty’ if they do not have access to at least:


the equivalent of 35 kg LPG for cooking per capita per year from liquid and/or gas fuels or from improved supply of solid fuel sources and improved (efficient and clean) cook stoves; and


(b) 120kWh electricity per capita per year for lighting, access to most basic services (drinking water, communication, improved health services, education improved services and others) plus some added value to local production


An ‘improved energy source’ for cooking is one which requires less than 4 hours person per week per household to collect fuel, meets the recommendations WHO for air quality (maximum concentration of CO of 30 mg/M3 for 24 hours periods and less than 10 mg/ M3 for periods 8 hours of exposure), and the overall conversion efficiency in higher than 25%.”


According to the World Bank, key issues in Africa’s Energy Sector include the following:


•Low access and insufficient capacity - Some 24 percent of the population of sub-Saharan Africa has access to electricity versus 40 percent in other low income countries. Excluding South Africa, the entire installed generation capacity of sub-Saharan Africa is only 28 Gigawatts, equivalent to that of Argentina.


•Poor reliability -African manufacturing enterprises experience power outages on average 56 days per year. As a result, firms lose 6 percent of sales revenues in the informal sector. Where back-up generation is limited, losses can be as high as 20 percent.


•High costs - Power tariffs in most parts of the developing world fall in the range of US$0.04 to US$0.08 per kilowatt-hour. However, in Sub-Saharan Africa, the average tariff is US$0.13 per kilowatt-hour. In countries dependent on diesel-based systems, tariffs are higher still. Given poor reliability, many firms operate their own diesel generators at two to three times the cost with attendant environmental costs.


Shortcomings in the power sector threaten Africa’s long term economic growth and competitiveness.  The cost to the economy of load-shedding is equivalent to 2.1 percent of GDP on average.


Improving energy access is a major goal of energy policy in all SADC Member States. Everyone in SADC has some degree of access to energy but this is often restricted and inadequate. It is therefore a national responsibility within the region to provide and improve access to energy.


Through the SADC Regional Energy Plan, Member States aspire to have halved the number of people without access to energy in their respective territories within 10 years. The overall objective of the plan is to inspire individual countries to formulate their own strategies, using the regional plan as a rich set of ideas to draw upon.


The SADC region still faces significant challenges in energy development and usage. The Regional Infrastructure Development Master Plan highlights the following issues:


•Only 5% of rural areas in the region have any access to electricity;


•SADC falls behind other Regional Economic Communities in Africa regarding access to electricity. While 24 % of the region’s residents have access, 36% of the Eastern Africa Power Pool area’s residents are connected, as are 44 % of the Western African Power Pool’s residents;


•An electricity shortage has strained the region since 2007. Although this shortage is expected to be corrected by 2014, projects intended to address the shortage lag behind deadline due to lack of funding;


•Low tariffs, poor project preparation, issues with Power Purchase Agreements, and absent regulatory frameworks stunt investment and financing in the energy sector;


•Coal supplies 75 % of power generation in Southern Africa, but is considered a contributing factor to global warming;


•Weak infrastructure and foreign commitments inhibit use of the region’s abundant petroleum and natural gas resources; and


•Pricing and infrastructure hurdles such as grid connections, manufacturing, and quality testing impede development of the region’s renewable energy potential. 


Namibia covers an area of about 824,000 km2 (excluding ocean), with a population of about 2.3 Million in 2013 (about 2.8 persons per square km). Namibia’s economy is heavily dependent, both directly and indirectly, on the primary sectors such as mining, agriculture and fisheries. About 35 % of the Namibian population has access to grid electricity. The low population density makes it uneconomically viable to extend the grid to every household in Namibia.


Decentralised power generation using local resources is one possible solution to providing access to electricity. The exploitation of renewable energy resources such as solar, wind and biomass must be intensified for the benefit of the communities remote from the grid. Both individual household systems and minigrids are on the increase in Namibia.


 Recently it has become a trend in the developing world to invite independent power producers (IPP’s) to generate electricity and feed it in the grid, independent of the source of the energy. Large photovoltaic farms and installations on buildings, are envisaged in the near future in Namibia, and these are set to reduce the levels of electricity imports, thereby increasing the country self sufficiency.


In most cases however, the technology and the industry have developed at a faster pace, elsewhere, than the local legislation, hence IPP’s tend to feel frustrated while the necessary policies and enabling environment are being developed. Once all are in tandem, it is expected that the pace of electrification, especially using renewable energy in Namibia will accelerate significantly. PF