By Ashvin Ramasamy

The Current State of Electrification in Africa

Currently only 31 percent of all Africans have access to electricity. Hydropower constitutes a reliable renewable energy source, representing a small fraction of total energy use in Africa. However, it bears significant potential for meeting growing demand while cutting CO2 emissions. In particular, Sub-Saharan Africa is said to utilize less than 10 percent of its hydroelectricity potential. If materialized, up to 400 gigawatt can be harnessed, which would expand the current continental output by a factor of four! That approximately 45 percent of Sub-Saharan Africa lack electricity coverage is an alarming concern, despite electrification growing at 8.4 percent annually. The vast majority — 80 percent in 2014 — of people deprived of electricity is concentrated in the rural areas. The risks on settlements and biodiversity can be mitigated with stringent flood control and prevention measures:


By and large, Ethiopia is a leader in hydroelectric production. Not only has it improved its electricity access to 57 percent, up from 43 percent in 2016, the country has been generating sizeable revenue from power export. In its current year, the nation has exported about 190 MW of power, totalling USD 37 million. In addition, the East African country ranks second in energy generation capacity, with the bulk stemming from hydropower sources. Other countries include Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia and Zambia where hydropower provides 90 percent of generated electricity nationally. By 2020, six more plants will be constructed, with two in Angola and one in Mozambique. However, most of these countries have faced some form of electricity disruption due to the unforgiving weather events. Long periods of insufficient rainfall — the extended drought in Ethiopia in 2017, in recent memory — would likely result in insufficient water to drive hydroelectric turbines and a shortage of electricity. Moreover, the planned location of upcoming hydroelectric dams puts into question how the rainfall patterns and intervening dry periods will affect electricity production at different hydro stations, notwithstanding the complications of a changing climate on weather patterns.

PIDA to Leverage Power Pools

Shortcomings in power deficit of many countries have been due in large part to misguided planning and subpar maintenance. Indeed, this is largely the cause of the 2008 energy shortage that affected 25 African nations. While hydrological resources (including rainfall and riverwater) will likely become a point of competition among intra-regional dam projects, a solution to overcome deficiencies in certain areas lies in interregional power sharing, that is a mechanism allowing countries to trade units of electricity on a contractual basis. So-called “power pools” have a long history in Africa, dating back to as early as the 1950s with the DRC and Zambia. However, in 2009 the Southern Africa Power Pool (SAPP) and the Central Africa Power Pool (CAPP) recorded 7.5 percent and 0.2 percent of traded energy, respectively.

On the heels of the power pools failings, the African intergovernmental community put in place PITA which aims to create at least 60 percent energy access for all Africans by 2040. Specifically, it contains the policy robustness needed to drive electrification supply. PIDA Priority Action Program (PIDA-PAP), will engender much needed trade among and within power pools. The outcome aims to generate benefits on:

In order to achieve the expected outcomes, a series of challenges must be addressed. Regional Economic Commissions (RECs) must mobilize funding streams to support development of required infrastructure. However, political will probably represents the crux of the matter: the regulatory and legal environments need to be simplified to facilitate power deals among countries. The lack of institutional involvement along with complacency from the private sector coupled with little motivation for investment in the recent past needs to be addressed. Moreover, actors of the power pools require greater authority to enable private sector investment.

Uncertainty looms with respect to PIDA-PAP as progress reports have been sparse on the the three aforementioned goals. Can the fate of successful implementation of hydroelectric power plants rest on the shoulder of PIDA or other measures are required?