By Dr Fatih Birol, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency (IEA)
This blog is part of a series on tackling COVID-19 in developing countries. Visit the OECD dedicated page to access the OECD’s data, analysis and recommendations on the health, economic, financial and societal impacts of COVID-19 worldwide.
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to cause major disruptions to societies and economies around the world, and has dealt a worrying blow to years of hard-won progress in reducing the number of people in Africa who lack access to electricity. For seven years in a row, the number of Africans living without electricity has steadily decreased, thanks to efforts from governments, businesses and civil society. But this year, it is set to rise by 13 million amid the turmoil brought by the pandemic, according to IEA analysis. The worst effects are being felt in countries such as Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Niger. By putting energy services out of reach of more and more people, the crisis threatens to deepen their difficulties and those of economies across Africa.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has been ratified, and access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all by 2030 is a target in its own right (SDG 7). Modern energy is central to achieving global development: it has never been a more important time to understand where the world stands on achieving this target, and to propose pragmatic strategies for achieving universal energy access.1
Achieving modern energy for all is within reach. The number of people without access to electricity fell below 1.1 billion in 2016, from 1.7 billion in 2000. We have undertaken an in-depth assessment of each country’s progress, finding some staggering successes. Half a billion people gained access to electricity in India alone, with government policies putting the country on track to universal access by the early 2020s, a tremendous achievement. Moreover, some countries in sub-Saharan Africa, including Kenya and Ethiopia, are on track to universal electricity access by 2030. However, progress overall has been uneven. Despite current efforts, over 670 million people will still be without electricity by 2030, 90% in sub-Saharan Africa.
For decades, access to electricity has been a serious challenge in Africa. It still is. 600 million Africans are not connected to an electrical network. African businesses cite electricity amongst the two most severe constraints on their operations (Enterprise Surveys, 2016). Twenty-five of the 54 countries in Africa, including Nigeria, South Africa, Ghana and Senegal, deal with frequent power crises characterised by outages, irregular supply and surging electricity costs. These are symptoms of insufficient generation capacity and a lack of infrastructure.
Despite these sobering facts, a number of recent initiatives signal that major improvements may be underway. The impetus to act is driven by the benefits Africa can reap by investing in electrification. Such benefits go far beyond direct job creation in energy infrastructure, as important as that is. Several pieces of evidence (Jimenez , Torero , van de Walle et al. ) suggest that household electrification also increases job opportunities by carving out more time for work and enabling rural micro-entrepreneurship. We see three reasons for hope that Africa is on the path to greater electrification – provided certain conditions are met.