On February 8, 2016, after years of lobbying in D.C., the Electrify Africa Act was signed into law by President Obama after passing through Congress with bipartisan support.
The purpose of Electrify Africa was to establish a clear precedent for energy-focused U.S. foreign policy in sub-Saharan Africa. Further, the bill set a number of goals for the Power Africa partnership to achieve by the year 2030. These included:
- Promotion of first-time access to power services for at least 50 million people in sub-Saharan Africa by 2020
- Encouragement of the installation of at least 20,000 additional megawatts of electrical power in sub-Saharan Africa by 2020
- Promotion of reliable and affordable power in urban, rural and underserved areas
- Encouragement for necessary reforms to support electricity access projects and market-based power generation and distribution
- Promotion of an energy development strategy for sub-Saharan Africa that includes the use of oil, natural gas, coal, hydroelectric, wind, solar and geothermal power
- Promotion of the use of private financing, and removal of barriers to private financing and assistance for projects, including charitable organizations.
The bill intended for these goals to be achieved through U.S. diplomatic engagement with the governments of sub-Saharan African countries, international financial institutions, and African regional economic communities, cooperatives and private sectors.
In addition to these targets, Electrify Africa ensured strong presidential support of the Power Africa initiative by enlisting direct action from the Executive branch.
So what’s new with Electrify Africa?
According to Power Africa’s 2017 Report, the nation has successfully implemented 7,600 megawatts of electrical power. Though it accounts for less than half of the 2020 goal of 20,000, the report highlights exceptional progress in the construction of sustainable infrastructure for the sector. If all goes to plan, this will ensure a rapid increase in energy availability over the next four years.
The projections for 2020 and 2030 show an increase in sustainable energy sources like hydro and solar power and a marked decrease in the use of natural gas. Combined, these currently account for roughly 60 percent of the regions energy output.
By 2030, Power Africa expects to see more than 50 percent of sub-Saharan energy produced from hydro, solar and biomass power alone.
What has been the social impact of Electrify Africa?
As one of its core points, the bill called for 50 million people to receive home electricity access by 2020. Power Africa has recently recorded that 53 million individuals, and 10.6 million homes and businesses, have already received power.
In addition to technical assistance, Power Africa has also made it a part of its mission to support the integration of female engineers into the body of the sub-Saharan African energy sector. This aim is supported by enlisting local women to manage microgrid initiatives within their communities.
The microgrid is intended as an alternative to the larger commercial grids which are inaccessible in rural regions of the continent. Further, due to recent technological improvements, these grids offer affordable long-term electricity options for rural communities. They are currently being used to power health clinics, schools, and limited forms of agricultural production.
Ultimately, the progress Electrify Africa has helped the Power Africa partnership make is game-changing. Not only are there directly measurable improvements in the sector’s infrastructure, but there also seems to be a rapid development of private sector involvement in the process. Such development offers much hope for continued improvements in the region.
– Katarina Schrag