African experts and policymakers on Thursday urged African countries to further expand investment in electricity production so as to drive the continent’s development.
The experts and policymakers made the call during a high-level business-to-government meeting in Ethiopia on accelerating the renewable energy transition, which brought together representatives of international organizations as well as African governments.
“Africa will not fully develop if hundreds of millions of its people continue to live without electricity,” Vera Songwe, executive secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), told the meeting.
Energy is at the heart of development and access to electricity would lift productivity within and across sectors in the continent, she said.
“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,” Songwe said.
“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,” she said. “Without energy we cannot have the development that we so yearn for.”
According to Songwe, nearly 600 million, or 48 percent of Africa’s population, still lack access to electricity, with the majority living in rural areas.
It is projected that roughly the same number of people will still have no access by 2030.
“This is the case despite the fact that there was additional electricity access to 26 million Africans between 2012 and 2016,” Songwe said.
“It was disheartening that nearly 848 million, or 72 percent of Africa’s population lack clean-cooking solutions with 90 percent or more relying on biomass for heat energy,” she said.
“Boosting access to electricity through innovation and better regulation was crucial,” the ECA chief said.
“We need to enact policies and regulations that can quickly enhance the enabling environment for deployment of renewable energy programs in Africa and make it easy for the private sector to play its role in helping accelerate the energy transition on the continent,” she added.
Ethiopian State Minister for Water, Irrigation and Energy in Ethiopia Frehiwot Woldehanna also stressed that the east African country is working to increase the number of people with access to electricity.
“In line with the government’s climate resilient green economy strategy, harnessing renewable energy resources was top priority,” Woldehanna said.
“We cannot continue to have a situation where our women and girls spend most of their productive time fetching firewood and water,” he said, adding that Ethiopia had made significant gains in its efforts to address power shortages.
Lack of sufficient power generation capacity, poor transmission and distribution infrastructure, high cost of supply to remote areas, and a lack of affordability for electricity are among the biggest hurdles facing Africa’s efforts to extend grid-based electricity, participants noted. Enditem