World Bank pledges $5bn to power Africa

Hydropower is a key plank of US$5 billion World Bank investment in electricity for Africa

Inga Dam, Congo. Africa is using only 8% of its hydropower resources (Pic: Flickr/International Rivers)

Inga Dam, Congo. Africa is using only 8% of its hydropower resources (Pic: Flickr/International Rivers)

By Megan Darby

The World Bank has pledged US$5 billion of support for energy projects in six African countries.

Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria and Tanzania will all get a share of the funds to bring electricity to more people.

The announcement came as part of a summit of African leaders in Washington.

In partnership with US president Barack Obama’s Power Africa initiative, the World Bank will provide direct finance, investment guarantees and advice.

Across Africa, 600 million people have no access to electricity. The whole of sub-Saharan Africa has roughly the same power generation capacity as Vietnam, at 80GW.

That is seen as a drag on Africa’s economic development.

Power Africa’s goal is to add 10GW of capacity. The World Bank is working on projects that could contribute a quarter of that goal.

Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank Group, said he was pleased to follow Obama’s lead.

At an Economist conference run alongside the US-Africa summit, Kim described the situation as “energy apartheid”.

The solution is set to include burning coal, oil and gas as well as cleaner technologies. This will increase greenhouse gas emissions from the continent, which are currently tiny by western standards.

Kim has said the World Bank will only fund coal where there is no alternative. Last month, he urged long-term investors to consider pulling out of industries that harm the climate.

In the case of sub-Saharan Africa, Kim said “we have to be serious” about boosting energy supply. That meant not ruling out controversial sources such as coal, nuclear and hydro.

On the renewable energy side, the bank played up the  potential for hydropower. Africa uses just 8% of its hydropower resources, compared to 85% in western Europe.

While hydropower is a low carbon form of generation, it can spark conflict over water rights.

Hydroelectric dams can generate significant clean energy. They can also flood people out of their homes, change the flow of rivers and raise tensions between neighbouring countries.

“Like Europe and the rest of the world, Africa deserves the same opportunity to exploit this green source of power to improve the lives and economic prospects of its people,” said the World Bank’s vice president for Africa, Makhtar Diop.

There will also be efforts to build up the transmission network and increase trading between countries.

“Those countries with abundant geothermal, gas, hydro, solar, and wind resources can feed their excess power supply into a common pool,” said Diop.

“Neighbouring states with less energy and generation capacity can benefit from this integrated approach to delivering electricity to their people.”

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