In Africa today, more than 500 million people live without electricity. In fact, fewer than one in five Africans was connected to the power grid in 2012, and despite a modest increase from 32 % to 35% between 2010 and 2012, the rate of electrification continues to be too slow to keep pace with the rapid population growth on the continent.
For Paul Noumba Um, World Bank Country Director for Mali, these findings merit a call for a ‘solar revolution’, which he proposed at a round-table discussion on renewable energy during the Economic Forum held in the margins of the XXVII Africa-France Summit.
In their remarks, various speakers assessed the current status of renewable energies. The conclusion that emerged from the discussion was that development in Sub-Saharan Africa is stymied by the way electricity is currently distributed: that is, following the traditional format of weak and intermittent supply of hydrocarbon-based electricity.
Malick Alhousseini, Mali’s Minister of Energy and Water, and a succession of economic actors, all referred to the difficulties prevailing in the sector, notably the obstacles faced by African entrepreneurs in developing their projects. In addition to highlighting the noteworthy achievements in the field of renewable sources of energy, such as the Lighting Africa project, the panelists proposed a variety of solutions and brainstormed with the participants.
In an economic climate characterized by sputtering economic growth in large economies like those of Nigeria, Angola, and South Africa, Paul Noumba Um stressed the need to act urgently to speed up the implementation of a stable system of energy.
“We are currently witnessing a paradigm shift and we must use new technologies to promote renewable energies, especially in rural areas,” he stated, emphasizing that this would also contribute to reducing poverty.
How can this be done? Governments should propose viable projects and transparent procedures while seeking to consolidate their gains to increase the production capacity of companies, whose present rate of increase in output is only between 1 and 2 gigawatts (GW) per year. Demand is growing at an annual rate of more than 6 or 7 GW.
To reduce this deficit, governments are being called upon to integrate solar technologies into their national electrification strategies, in order to put in motion a “solar revolution” by 2023, and to produce 1 GW of photovoltaic electricity connected to the national grid. This will also make it possible to supply off-grid solar energy to 56 million new users.
Solar Energy Improves the Lives of Rural Malians
The World Bank Group is already implementing electrification projects in the rural areas in Mali, in conjunction with the Malian Agency for the Development of Household Energy and Rural Electrification (AMADER).
As part of the Global Partnership of Output-Based Aid (GPOBA), the World Bank has also provided financing for projects to install new electricity meters in the commune of Sébékoro, in the Kayes region, to the west of Bamako. These meters are more affordable than those generally available on the market. The supply of electricity to the commune was also extended to run between 6 pm and midnight.
This means that children can now do their homework and study at home, and households can charge their telephones, listen to the radio, or watch television. It also allows owners of small restaurants to stay open longer through the use of refrigerators and freezers.
Making Renewable Energy Where No Energy Exists Today
Through the Domestic Energy and Rural Access to Basic Sources Project (PEDASB), it was possible to install a 52 kilowatt peak (kWc) plant in Zantiébougou, in the Sikasso region to the south of Bamako. Some 765 people now have electricity connections and the commune has been able to empower women by developing a unit for processing local produce grown by the women of Zantiébougou. Other economic activities have also flourished such as trade, carpentry, welding, while teachers have noted an increase in the success rate of their pupils.
In Niena, also in the Sikasso region, 538 people are being supplied by a hybrid system (solar photovoltaic/diesel). Apart from the advantages similar to those observed in Zantiébougou, access to electricity has improved the security and quality of health centers and clinics. Teachers have also reported a marked improvement in their pupils’ performance.
The energy sector plays a critical role in contributing to growth in Sub-Saharan Africa. The World Bank is committed to providing financial support to African governments for their reforms aimed at improving the energy sector and expanding access to users living in the most remote areas. It also actively advocating the use of renewable energies, which make up the main pillar in the Africa Climate Business Plan, launched by the Bank during COP21 in Paris in 2015 to mobilize $16 billion by 2018.
About Gordon Smith Gordon's expertise in the area of industrial energy efficiency and alternative energy. He is an experienced electrical engineer with a Masters degree in Alternative Energy technology. He is the co-founder of several renewable energy media sites including Solar Thermal Magazine.