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‘What can we do?’: Millions in African countries need electricity

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — From Zimbabwe, where many people have to work at night because it’s the only time they have electricity, to Nigeria, where grid outages occur frequently, a reliable supply of electricity is elusive across Africa.

Energy experts warn that the lack of electricity in many of Africa’s 54 countries is a serious drain on the continent’s economic growth.

South Africa’s electricity generation has become so inadequate in recent years that the continent’s most developed economy suffers rolling power blackouts of eight to 10 hours per day.

Africa’s vast cities have an erratic supply of electricity but large areas of the continent’s rural areas have no electricity at all. According to the International Energy Agency, in 2021, 43% of Africans – about 600 million people – will not have access to electricity, with 590 million in sub-Saharan Africa.

According to World Bank estimates, an investment of about $20 billion is needed annually to achieve universal electrification in sub-Saharan Africa. Of that figure, about $10 billion is needed annually to bring electricity to West and Central Africa and keep it running.

According to Andrew Lawrence, an energy expert at the University of the Witwatersrand Business School in Johannesburg, there are several reasons for the tight delivery of electricity in Africa, including aging infrastructure, a lack of government oversight and a lack of skills to maintain the national grid. .

A historical problem is that many colonial regimes created power systems largely reserved for the minority white population and which did not include large sections of the black population.

Today many African countries rely on state-owned power utilities.

Much attention has been focused on the Western-financed “Just Energy Transition” over the past two years, with France, Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union committing funds to help poor countries move out of highly polluting coal. Offering – fired power generation for renewable, eco-friendly sources of electricity. Lawrence said Africa as a region should be one of the key beneficiaries of expanding electricity access on the continent and improving the struggling power grid.

“The transition should target rural access and electrification of the entire continent should be at the forefront. This is something that is technically possible,” he said.

Western powers have vowed to provide $8.5 billion to help South Africa move away from its coal-fired power plants, which produce 80% of the country’s electricity.

As a result of its reliance on coal, South Africa is among the top 20 highest emitters of planet-warming greenhouse gases in the world and accounts for about a third of all Africa’s emissions, according to experts.

South Africa’s plan to move away from coal, however, is constrained by its pressing need to produce as much electricity as possible every day.

The East African country of Uganda has also been battling power cuts for years, despite massive investments in power generation.

Experts say Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, has been battling inadequate power supply for several years, generating just 4,000 megawatts, although a population of more than 210 million people needs 30,000 megawatts . The oil-rich but energy-poor West African nation has increased investment in the power sector but endemic corruption and mismanagement have resulted in little profit.

In Zimbabwe, the power shortage that has plagued the country for years has worsened as the state authority that manages Kariba, the country’s largest dam, has limited power generation due to low water levels.

Successive droughts have lowered the level of Lake Kariba so low that the Kariba South Hydro Power Station, which provides about 70% of Zimbabwe’s electricity, is currently producing only 300 MW, well below its 1,050 MW capacity. is less.

Zimbabwe’s coal-fired power stations, which also provide some electricity, have become unreliable due to the frequent breakdown of old infrastructure. The country’s solar potential has yet to be fully developed to increase supply meaningfully.

This means that Harare barber Omar Chienda never knows when he will have the power he needs to run his electric clippers.

“What can we do? We just have to wait until the power comes back on, but most of the time it comes back at night,” said Chienda, a 39-year-old father of three. That means I can’t work. , My family goes hungry.

In Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, 29-year-old Favre Ben, a restaurant owner, said she spends a large part of her monthly budget on electricity bills and petrol for her generator, but adds that she only gets an average of 7 hours a day Electricity is available.

“It has been very difficult, especially after you pay your electricity bill and they don’t give you the light.” Ben said. Bad the next day (and) I’ve lost money for that.

Unreliable electricity results in an annual loss of $29 billion to businesses in Nigeria, with providers of essential services often struggling to maintain their operations on generators, the World Bank said.

As delegates gathered in Cape Town this month to discuss Africa’s energy challenges, there was an overwhelming sense that the power shortage on the continent must be urgently addressed. There was some hope that a Western-financed “Just Energy Transition” would create some opportunities, but many were skeptical.

Among the biggest critics of efforts to see countries like South Africa rapidly transition from coal use to clean energy is Gwede Mantashe, South Africa’s Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy.

He is among those advocating that Africa use all sources available to produce enough electricity for the continent, including natural gas, solar, wind, hydropower, and especially coal.

“Coal will be with us for many years to come. Those who see this as a road to corruption or anything are going to be disappointed for many years,” Mantashe said. “Coal is going to keep many of us alive.”


AP reporter Chindu Asadu in Abuja, Nigeria; Farai Mutsaka in Harare, Zimbabwe; and Rodney Muhumuza contributed in Kampala, Uganda.

Mogomotsi Magome, The Associated Press


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