East African countries have made significant strides in enhancing electricity access to their citizens. Kenya and Tanzania took a global lead in connecting people with power, at a rate of 3 per cent each year between 2010 and 2016. This is according to The Energy Progress Report by the World Bank.
“Some of the strongest gains were made in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania, which all increased their electricity access rate by 3 per cent or more annually between 2010 and 2016,” the report, released last month states.
At the end of the period, electricity access rate in Kenya stood at 56 per cent. In Tanzania, it stood at 32.8 per cent, at 29.37 per cent in Rwanda and at 26.7 per cent in Uganda. Burundi was the least connected at 7.5 per cent, according to the report, which tracks global achievements in attaining sustainable energy for all by 2030.
The report further says that one billion people, equivalent to 13 per cent of the global population still live without electricity. Sub-Saharan Africa and Central and South Asia continue to have the most energy access poverty. The world’s rural areas are the worst affected with 87 per cent of people without electricity.
Although the world may not achieve global energy targets for 2030 as per the Sustainable Development Goals, there is real progress particularly in expanding access to electricity in least developed countries. Renewable energy is also making impressive gains in the electricity sector, despite this not being matched in transportation and heating, which jointly account for 80% of global energy consumption.
However, for the first time, the electrification deficit in Sub-Saharan Africa has begun to fall, thanks in part to expansion of renewable sources such as solar and stand-alone systems such as mini-grids. Millions of people now have access to power through solar home systems (SHS) or are connected to mini-grids.
“However, these remain concentrated in about a dozen pioneering countries where penetration of solar electricity can reach as much as 5-15% of the population,” the report says.
While global trends are disappointing, recent national experiences around the world offer encouraging signs. There is mounting evidence that with the right approaches and policies, countries can make substantial progress in clean energy and energy access improving the lives of millions of people. For instance, Rwanda is banking on efforts by private-sector investors to generate power through sources such as solar and hydro mini-grids to attain universal energy access by 2024. This is on the backdrop that availability of affordable, reliable energy is a critical driver towards industrialisation, a precursor for job creation and economic development.
As at the end of 2017, Rwanda’s national electrification rate stood at 41 per cent (11 per cent off-grid, 30 per cent on-grid). The target is to realise a 52 per cent grid connection with 48 per cent connected through solar home systems and mini-grids.
“By powering homes, we enable people in rural areas to improve their standard of living. By powering businesses and productive enterprises, we enable economic development at the village-level by generating employment and revenue,” says Julie Roberts, Project Manager at MeshPower, a renewable energy company that recently launched a solar mini-grid in Gitaraga village, Bugesera District in Eastern Rwanda. The mini-grid will provide clean energy access to 196 households and 15 businesses.
In neighbouring Tanzania, the African Development Bank (AfDB), in collaboration with the government, is expanding access to reliable and affordable electricity with funding support for the construction of the Zuzu substation in Dodoma, connecting 121 villages to the power supply in the capital city. In the last four decades, the AfDB has invested over US $200 million in Tanzania’s power sector and helped connect at least 130,000 customers and over 18,000 businesses.
The Tanzanian government has set a target of realising at least 10,000 megawatts of electricity capacity by 2025.
“As we take stock of progress towards the global goal on sustainable energy, this latest data clearly shows more action and political leadership is needed if we are to live up to our promise to leave no one behind,” said Rachel Kyte, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General and CEO of Sustainable Energy for All. “To meet 2030 targets, we must make every unit of energy work harder. We need to increase investment in the technologies and business models that make electricity access affordable for everyone, place even bigger bets on the remarkable capacity of renewable energy and build big markets for clean fuels and cooking access.”
By Joshua Masinde