The electrification of Africa

22 August 2014

A GCR special report into the surge of power construction that will transform the continent over the next six years.

Sub-Saharan Africa is made up of 49 countries, with a total population of about 826 million. Together, they have an installed generating capacity of 68GW. This is equivalent to the electricity output of Iran (62GW). About 65% of this capacity is provided by one country: South Africa.

Unfortunately, the generating equipment, substations and grids of these 49 countries are often in need of repair or replacement, which means that available power is well below installed capacity: in countries that have suffered civil war, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), only 48% of installed capacity finds its way to a plug socket.

The result of all this is in about 80% of Sub-Saharan Africa, cooking is accomplished by burning wood or other biomass and lighting is by means of oil lamps. What electricity there is is produced by expensive diesel generators.

For more international stories visit the CIOB’s global construction website GCR

The present situation is the result of a century of under-investment. The World Bank estimates that external spending on the entire continent’s power sector has been $600m a year – hardly enough to maintain what is there now. It is clear that a surge in investment is needed to refurbish the existing infrastructure and create national and international grids before they will be able to distribute additional generating capacity.  

This is now changing. The main actor in the transformation of Africa has been Chinese capital, more recently joined by India and, in the Maghreb, the Gulf states. The financing is funding the exploitation of the continent’s vast reserves of fossil fuel, and its potential reserves of renewables and hydroelectric power.

This extra power will then allow the exploitation of mineral resources, and so make available more money for the power sector. This virtuous circle may eventually make possible a wider transformation of ordinary life, such as allowing schoolchildren sufficient light to do homework, or allowing municipal governments to think about commissioning public transport systems. 

In some cases, such as Ethiopia and the DRC, the country’s entire future has been predicated on electricity generation. The former’s Grand Renaissance Dam is being partly financed by bonds bought by the population; the latter’s Great Inga Dam may eventually provide two-thirds of the whole of Sub-Saharan Africa’s present generating capacity. 

These maps present an assessment of how Africa’s electricity generating industry will develop in the next six years. They are predominantly based on schemes that are either under way, or have received funding, although in some cases, such as Nigeria and Cameroon, we have taken an optimistic view of the government’s stated target.

Algeria Capacity is set to triple by 2017 thanks to six gas-powered stations, five built by Korean firms Samsung, Hyundai, GS-Daelim and Daewoo, one by Spanish engineer Duro Felguera. 

Angola This country will invest $23bn by 2017 to increase its electricity network. The government plans to increase output to 9GW by 2025 compared with 1.8GW now. About 15 plants are on the drawing board, and firms such as Brazil’s Odebrecht are in line to build them. Much additional work will be taken up with repairing the damage left by the 30-year civil war (installed capacity is 1.2GW, but available capacity is 930MW). The biggest single scheme is the  Laúca Dam, in northern Kwanza Norte Province, which is designed to provide 5GW of capacity by 2017.

Botswana This industry is coal and oil-based. The plan is to expand the Morupule facility and build a greenfield coal plant to expand capacity from 420MW to 1GW. 

Cameroon The country aims to increase its generating capacity from 1.1GW to 3GW by 2020. 

Côte d’Ivoire The government has announced that it plans to increase capacity from 1.2GW to 3.5GW by 2016. The main means of achieving this is private sector investment: 66 projects have been thrown open to independent power producers, among them Ciprel subsidiaryof French construction conglomerate Bouygues. At present generation is split 60:40 between thermal and hydro, and both are to be expanded. The largest project under way is the 275MW hydroelectric plant at Soubre which is being built by Sinohydro.

Read the rest of the article at GCR


I find it disappointing to see the further development of coal and fossil fuel power stations and NO references to renewable energy.
The African continent has an immense and continuous supply of solar energy.
Also as some 80% of folk live in the bush and are subsistence farmers, some simple forms of energy production should be a priority. I spend time most years in Tanzania on voluntary work and see the results of both climate change and inappropriate investment.

Phil Barlow, 14 September 2014

For Africa to progress we need an affordable yet highly effective and locally mass produced and
erected and chosen as the most suited of renewable energy generating type for the specific
climatic and geographic areas in need of development! Education in the basic technologies involved is essential for success!

Jose' Scalabrino MCIOB, 24 September 2014

Like Phil, I have also spent time in Africa working as a volunteer. I spent two years living and working in a rural village in Kenya without electricity (or any modern amenities). I have to agree with both comments and although the environmental issues have to be considered, so do the economical and social. Africa has the right to all modern amenities that we enjoy, and everybody should assist where possible to provided this in the most environmentally friendly way as possible. A suitable mixture of local renewable energy sources, such as anaerobic digestors, solar panels, geothermal, water turbines could be installed giving local areas control over there power etc. instead of it being controlled by governments or large corporations. BUT most of all training and education in using and maintaining the equipment along with readily accessible spare parts has to be provided. We should pass on the knowledge that we have gained through the mistakes we have made to provide a more sustainable future for others. Please see the link below for a company who is trialing such an idea. (I have no affiliation with the company, just found them on the internet one day and like the idea!)

Michael Carr, 26 September 2014

Leave a comment