On June 21, 2023, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) announced plans to invest some $89 million over a five-year period to “expand access to cleaner, reliable energy in sub-Saharan Africa.” Administrator Samantha Powers introduced the initiative at the 25th Africa Energy Forum (AEF), held in Nairobi, Kenya in June 2023. The announcement coincided with the 10-year anniversary of the Power Africa program, a U.S.-led partnership that has bolstered the AEF’s efforts to resolve Africa’s energy crisis and accelerate the implementation of reliable energy solutions across Africa.
Africa’s Energy Crisis
According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the rate of electricity access in sub-Saharan Africa has slowly but steadily increased in recent years, rising from 33.3% in 2010 to 48.2% in 2020. However, with more than 50% of the region’s population lacking access to electricity as of 2020, the rate of electricity access in sub-Saharan Africa remains “the lowest of any region in the world.” This is attributable to factors including a lack of grid distribution, high tariffs, income instability and strained infrastructure budgets, which have collectively lowered consumer demand and discouraged investment in improving the outdated grids that do exist. Accordingly, the report also showed, only about 18% of the sub-Saharan African population had access to clean energy for cooking as of 2020, a remarkably low percentage compared to the world average of about 70%.
Due to the current lack of access to clean energy, women and girls have been “disproportionately affected by household air pollution,” which UNCTAD reports resulted in 700,000 deaths across the continent in 2019. Yet, Africa holds 60% of the world’s best solar energy resources, meaning that there is great potential for African countries to implement safe, sustainable, cost-effective solutions for electricity distribution.
Power Through Partnership
Established in 2013, Power Africa focuses specifically on “ending energy poverty in sub-Saharan Africa.” By 2030, it aims to generate 30,000 megawatts or more of clean, reliable energy and provide electricity access for 60 million homes and businesses throughout the region. Consistent with the AEF’s goals, it plans to achieve this by uniting governments, companies and financial institutions in partnerships that will help combat the African energy crisis and “enable African leaders to pave their own future.”
Currently, Power Africa has more than 170 private sector partners coordinating efforts to build the technology, infrastructure and investments needed to deliver sustainable, reliable clean energy to sub-Saharan African communities. Simultaneously, the program is working with governments throughout the region to implement power sector reforms that are critical for resolving Africa’s energy crisis.
Furthermore, Power Africa is advancing gender equality in sub-Saharan Africa by promoting women’s involvement across all spheres of the energy sector, from policy-making to private companies to power generation plants. It emphasizes adopting gender inclusion policies, offers women opportunities for education and technical training and provides leadership training to support women’s advancement in the field.
Empowerment for the Future
So far, Power Africa has enabled more than 172 million people in sub-Saharan Africa to gain reliable electricity access, thereby contributing to alleviating Africa’s energy crisis. The new initiative will provide an additional “10 million on- and off-grid connections” that will benefit around 50 million people, allowing households and businesses across the region to gain access to better, cleaner, more reliable electricity.
Significantly, this comes with positive environmental and economic impacts. For instance, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, off-grid, or stand-alone, systems employ “a combination of techniques and technologies” to lower energy consumption and costs in remote regions where connecting to the grid is not economically feasible. With an additional $4.7 billion in public and private investments slated to develop infrastructure for a further 1,227 megawatts of clean energy generation and 1,500 km of transmission lines in sub-Saharan Africa, economic and environmental reform is on the horizon.
Since its inception, the Africa Energy Forum has opened discussion on topics including mining, pipeline projects, renewable energy, electricity trading and hydrogen power plants — an industry and a solution that has been gaining global attention and becoming increasingly prevalent in Africa. By providing space and funding to advance such solutions, Power Africa and AEF are making vital progress in combating Africa’s energy crisis while creating new diplomatic, infrastructural and business opportunities that will ensure future economic and environmental prosperity.
– Lucy Cosme Vera
Photo: Wikimedia Commons