Electricity Access in the SahelOn March 11, 2021, the World Bank approved $22.5 million of funding for the Regional Off-Grid Electricity Access Project (ROGEAP) in the Sahel region of Africa. This region is one of the most impoverished areas in the world and few residents have access to electricity. However, the funding expects to increase electricity access in the Sahel by turning to a new source of energy — solar power.

Electricity Access in Sahel Region

The Sahel region stretches across the Sahara desert and includes the countries of Ghana, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad, among others. Besides having arid climates, the common denominator for countries in the Sahel region is poverty. None of the countries mentioned above have a GDP per capita of more than $3,000, and with this lack of capital, comes a lack of electricity access. Furthermore, approximately 50% of the 340 million people living in the Sahel region do not have access to electricity, representing one of the lowest modern electricity consumption rates for any region on Earth. Insufficient generation, high petroleum prices and lack of financing for large electricity grids have all contributed to the area’s low connectivity.

This lack of electricity access in the Sahel has had destructive physical and economic effects on regional residents. Several public health centers lack sufficient energy generation, which puts the lives of patients requiring electricity for survival at great risk. Furthermore, rural areas of the Sahel often lack any electricity, forcing residents to use firewood in traditional stoves for cooking, which has led to adverse health effects from smoke inhalation and the dangers of cutting trees for fuel. Even if the electrical grid reaches some rural areas, most families cannot afford the cost. Many countries in the region currently generate more than 90% of their energy from expensive diesel or heavy fuel, which results in high energy costs for both the urban and rural impoverished. Without any policy changes, energy poverty will continue to ravage the Sahel region for the foreseeable future.

Turning to Solar Power Solutions

Thankfully, solar power presents an exciting new possibility for expanding electricity access in the Sahel. Experts see the Sahel as an area with massive solar potential, as many people living there, especially those in rural communities, have access to vast areas of flat land needed for solar panels. Furthermore, off-grid (individually owned) solar power systems present the lowest-cost energy option for 65% of the rural population in the Sahel region. Off-grid power sources are already becoming regional hallmarks as many residents live a significant distance from the power grid. According to the International Energy Agency, about 70% of Africa’s new rural power will come from off-grid power sources by 2040.

Seeing this potential, the World Bank increased funding for the Regional Off-Grid Electricity Access Project (ROGEAP) by $22.5 million. Grants from the International Development Association and the Clean Technology Fund have made this funding possible. The main goal of ROGEAP is to support the development of stand-alone (off-grid) solar products and the advancement of the solar market in a unified effort to boost electricity access in the Sahel. This project will assist in accelerating the deployment of stand-alone solar products, provide credits and grants for off-grid solar home systems and coordinate policies and standards to develop a prosperous regional solar market.

How ROGEAP Will Help

  1. It will provide electricity for public health centers and schools, which will, in turn, improve health and education in the region. The projected increase in the standard of living will likely lead to more people being able to secure well-paying jobs to support themselves and their families.
  2. It will create jobs within the blossoming solar market for people of all skill levels. Transitioning to solar power creates the need for jobs in installation, transportation and infrastructure industries. Additionally, entrepreneurial ventures in solar power will likely sprout from the new funding.
  3. It will improve the output and ease of production for many different jobs. For example, farming communities can use solar water pumps for easier irrigation and milling communities can use new solar milling equipment for more efficient production.

Lighting the Way Forward

By supporting the advancement of stand-alone solar products, ROGEAP aims to enhance electricity access in the Sahel for more than a million residents. The project will increase the use of solar power across the region and subsequently provide electricity for homes, schools, hospitals, farms and small businesses that previously lacked connection. The new funding will likely have a positive impact on health, education and employment in the region for decades to come. If the World Bank and other international agencies hope to continue this endeavor of expanding electricity access in developing regions of the world, projects supporting stand-alone solar power sources like ROGEAP seem to be a winning solution.

Calvin Melloh
Photo: Flickr