Africa Needs Access to Electricity to Develop: Songwe

Africa Needs Access to Electricity to Develop
"48% of Africa's population still lack access to electricity" (ECA)

Ethiopia – United Nations Economic Commission for Africa’s Executive Secretary, Ms Vera Songwe, has pointed out that Africa, where nearly 600 million or 48% of the population still lack access to electricity, will not fully develop if its people continue to live without electricity. The majority of the 600 million live in rural areas and it is projected that roughly the same number of people will not have access by 2030, Songwe also said.

Songwe also pointed out that this is the case despite the fact that there was additional electricity access to 26 million Africans between 2012 and 2016. She also added that nearly 848 million or 72 percent of Africa’s population lacks clean cooking solutions with 90 percent or more relying on biomass for heat energy.

Addressing a Res4Africa business-to-government high level workshop on accelerating the renewable energy transition in Ethiopia, Songwe said energy was at the heart of development and access to electricity would lift productivity within and across sectors.

“Right now the continent is moving towards the game-changing African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) where collectively we can wield the strength of the African continent better than we can individually by trading more with each other but the AfCFTA requires production which requires energy,” she said.

Songwe applauded current innovation efforts across Africa but lamented the need for speed as the continent tries to address its power challenges. Boosting access to electricity through innovation and better regulation was crucial, the ECA Executive Secretary added.

“Africa has to act fast and now to increase the number of people with access to electricity. We have to quadruple our efforts on energy if we are to achieve the sustainable development goals and Agenda 2063. Without energy we cannot have the development that we so yearn for,” said Songwe.

The ECA Executive Secretary also said Africa needs to enact policies and regulations that can quickly enhance the enabling environment for deployment of renewable energy programmes on the continent and make it easy for the private sector to play its role in helping accelerate the energy transition on the continent.

Speaking at the same event, Frehiwot Woldehanna, State Minister for Water, Irrigation and Energy in Ethiopia, shared efforts by his country to increase the number of people with access to electricity. He revealed that Ethiopia had approved end of 2019 five new hydro and solar projects. He also talked on Ethiopia’s new tariff system which aims to expand access by all to power.

Woldehanna also explained that harnessing renewable energy resources was top priority for Ethiopia in line with its climate resilient green economy strategy.

“We cannot continue to have a situation where our women and girls spend most of their productive time fetching firewood and water,” Woldehanna said, adding the country had made significant gains in its efforts to address power shortages.

Roberto Vigotti, Secretary General of Res4Africa, emphasized the importance of accelerating the renewable energy transition not only in Ethiopia but Africa as a whole.

RES4Africa contributes to building sustainable energy partnerships on the continent with a “bottom up” approach able to propose solutions customized to local contexts. The organization encourages the setting-up of partnership formulas aiming to provide decision makers with the viewpoint of the private sector and in the process stimulating investment opportunities.

Lack of sufficient power generation capacity, poor transmission and distribution infrastructure, high costs of supply to remote areas, or simply a lack of affordability for electricity, are among the biggest hurdles affecting Africa’s efforts to extend grid-based electricity.