Viewpoint: Kofi Annan

Nearly two-thirds of Africa’s 620m people do not have access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern electricity and this is one of the important energy objectives of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Africa’s energy deficit continues to stifle economic growth, job creation, agricultural transformation and improvements in health and education. In several countries, including Ethiopia, Kenya and South Africa, renewable energy makes up an increasingly important share of power generation. There are a number of promising initiatives to provide cross-border electricity mostly drawn from renewable resources such as solar, wind, and hydropower. We need to see more of them deployed on a far greater scale to bring power and light to Africa.

Traditional approaches to extending the grid are no longer as viable as they used to be. They take too long and do not meet the needs of our population. Governments and their partners need to re-imagine their energy future. We are not saying that countries should immediately stop using fossil fuels and switch to renewable sources, as the cost of transitioning may be prohibitively high in the short term, but we urge that African governments harness all available energy resources so no one is left behind.

Each country needs to decide on the most cost-effective, technologically efficient energy mix that works for its own needs. To meet rapidly growing demand, that energy mix will gradually progress toward greater use of off-grid power solutions. It should also lead to the emergence of more flexible hybrid national energy sectors that link to off-grid generation. Mobile phone technology has already helped Africa leapfrog conventional technology and has improved financial and social inclusion. We foresee that innovation will bring energy to millions of Africans, leading to better health, education, access to markets and jobs.

However, policy and regulatory environments in Africa need to improve considerably to make such projects a reality. Off-grid solar products can act as rungs on the energy ladder, providing a range of energy services to households and enterprises with different energy needs and incomes. Mini-grids can also offer sustainable and permanent alternatives to connecting to the grid, especially as reliable and affordable products that are attractive to small businesses and communities located far from the grid become mainstream.

Africa’s leadership, in both the public and private sector, needs to step up and join the energy-for-all agenda. Governments need to intensify their efforts to put in place the right regulatory environment that gives the energy industry the necessary incentive to deliver on its transformational potential. The private sector, African and non-African, should be encouraged to enter energy generation, transmission, and distribution markets; deepen linkages throughout the value chain; and build investment partnerships that can further drive economic growth and create jobs.

We urge all countries to put in place integrated plans and policies that can scale Africa’s energy transition. The success of countries such as Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Morocco, Rwanda and South Africa show what can be achieved with determination and sustainability. Achievements at the national level are essential, but are only part of the solution. To fully address the energy challenges, governments must collaborate more closely on a continental scale. Improved cross-border power trade is crucial to realise Africa’s energy potential.

There is a clear need to adopt more continental or sub-continental approaches to power infrastructure development and management in order to accelerate regional power integration. This must involve a greater pooling of electricity resources and harmonisation of national grids. Massive increases in investments in regional transmission infrastructure and the development of new power trading agreements are also essential. The ultimate goal should be to interlink Africa’s numerous and fragmented power initiatives to create a real pan-African or subregional power grid.