With a rate of access to electricity of just 45%, Africa is the least electrified continent in the world. The rate is as low as 26% in the Sahel and drops to below 10% in some nations, like Burundi. There are two major factors behind these numbers: a low ability to pay among potential consumers and sparsely populated regions.
Under the ARE Scale UP program, Agence Française de Développement (AFD) and consulting firm Burgeap recently conducted a study of electrification successes, featuring factors that made a difference in rural areas in seven countries: Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Kenya, Madagascar, Morocco, Mauritania and Senegal.
In keeping with Sustainable Development Goal No. 7 aimed at ensuring universal electrification by 2030, the study highlights three focus areas for rethinking and improving access to electricity.
A strong stakeholder to organize electrification
The countries studied have shown that the presence of a robust national electric agency is often a decisive factor in ensuring the success of electrification strategies. Many African countries, inspired by this observation, established a rural electrification agency in the 1990s. Unfortunately, due to a lack of means and technical skills, these agencies have not always been the agents of change that were hoped for.
Despite these failures, identifying a leader capable of broadening access to electricity remains essential. This leader must be capable of uniting the stakeholders involved and overseeing large-scale projects, potentially benefiting from joint funding from international donors. They must also rely on operators, both in running the networks and managing relationships with subscribers.
The Utility and Uses of Electricity
Providing an area with access to electricity is not only an end in itself. What is important is how it is used, the ability to have light in the evening, keep food cool, run a machine to save time, etc. This is what makes it essential for socioeconomic development in general.
Electrification projects do more than just introduce electricity, they should have a long-term perspective. Integrating these programs as part of a sustainable development vision for the regions in question also requires recycling networks to be established. This is essential in order to recover the equipment at the end of its life cycle, especially wire, metals, batteries and solar panels.
Rural electrification needs funding
Reaching the goal of 100% of households connected to electricity requires considerable subsidies for the sector, since rural electrification generally shows a deficit. As identified by the study, households without access to electricity are often located in remote and poorer areas.
The connection is not very profitable due to the difficulty involved in building infrastructure and establishing access, coupled with low consumption levels in areas with low populations. Limited household financial resources also make it a less than lucrative proposition.
The presence of an “anchor customer” (a craftsman or small business for example), capable of consuming a substantial share of the electricity, can contribute to the profit rationale, and make an area more attractive for private operators.
Read the study: “The challenges of universalizing electrification"