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7 September 2015 - Africa’s power sector struggles under low access and insufficient capacity. Only 35 percent of the population of Sub-Sahara Africa, including South Africa, has access to electricity while more than 90 percent of the populations of Burundi, Chad, Liberia, Malawi, and South Sudan lack access to a power grid. Most African countries, except South Africa, face severe power generation capacity deficits even compared to international peers of similar economic size.

  • For example, electric power consumption in Kenya is 157 kWh/year per capita, equivalent to 11 times less than in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, the poorest Former Soviet Union countries. Similarly, Cameroon, with a population of about 22 million, has only 1 GW of installed electricity capacity versus 22 GW of installed capacity in Romania, one the poorest European countries with the same total population. 
  • Even between African countries there exists large deviations in per capita power generation capacity. Egypt has a population roughly half the size of Nigeria's and yet has nearly five times the installed power generation capacity, according to data from the International Energy Agency and the World Bank.
  • Total primary energy consumption in Africa - the second most populous continent with an estimated population of more than 1 billion people - is only 19.6 quadrillion Btu per year. In contrast, the US consumes 97.3 quadrillion Btu/year.

Sub-Sahara Africa is distinguished by its reliance on renewable power sources. About 70 percent of Sub-Sahara Africa's energy comes from renewables, particularly hydroelectric sources, according to the World Bank. As a result, the renewables sector has encouraged robust foreign investment. For example, nearly three quarters of the total $41.6 billion energy-sector investment from China during the period 2005-2014 targeted hydropower.

Even with the investment appeal of nonfossil fuel power generation, total investment into Africa’s energy sector falls well short of the required level to enable faster growth. The slow pace of infrastructure development leads the US Energy Information Administration to project that total energy consumption in Africa will increase by only 24 percent during the next ten years. In addition, investment in Africa’s energy sector is often “bring-your-own-infrastructure” in nature, forcing companies to build their own power stations for other enterprise projects and lacking a national-level oversight to ensure targeted build-out and connectivity. Without such strategic oversight, impoverished populations are seldom able to provide enough demand to ensure self-sufficiency of new power stations to attract investment.

Sources: IMF World Economic Outlook (WEO)EIA International Energy DataThe World Bank World Development IndicatorsThe China Global Investment Tracker.

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