Africans asked to raise billions for energy access plan

Governments urged to radically boost energy investment under African Development Bank strategy to bring light to 645 million

At night, while the rest of the world is illuminated with street lights, Ad=frica is dark (Pic: NASA/Flickr)

At night, while the rest of the world is illuminated with street lights, Africa is dark (Pic: NASA/Flickr)

By Ed King

African countries are being asked to stump up billions for a vast network of power plants across the continent which could bring light to 645 million people lacking electricity.

Under plans outlined by the African Development Bank, the continent’s 54 nations will be asked to boost investment in energy from 0.4% of GDP to 3.4%, and slash subsidies for kerosene and diesel.

The bank’s ‘New Deal’ initiative was launched on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos on Thursday, aiming to add 160 gigawatts of capacity by 2025.

It will invest US$12 billion and leverage a further $50bn under a plan to address the continent’s chronic energy shortages.

“What we take for granted in developed countries is a luxury in Africa. Africa has no power and it is tired of being in the dark,” said the bank’s president, Akinwumi Ayodeji Adesina.

“This will be the equivalent of adding 800 new 200MW power plants – the ambition is high but is has been done in China, Vietnam and Bangladesh. It is doable.”

Power shortages are estimated to cost Africa 2-4% of GDP every year. According to the ADB, companies in Ghana and Tanzania are losing 15% of sales as a result of power outages. Hospitals lack the ability to provide effective 24 hour care, while 90% of schools lack electricity. Widespread use of wood and dung to heat homes and cook also poses severe health risks. An estimated 600,000 die every year due to indoor air pollution. Renewable energy agency IRENA says 250GW needs to be added by 2030 to meet demand.

An estimated 130 million grid connections will need to be completed in the next decade to hit that target, while a further 75 million off-grid consumers can benefit benefit from solar systems.

But there’s likely to be an investment shortfall of up to $30 billion, which the ADB hopes will come from other intergovernmental organisations and the private sector.

Under an agreement devised by the UN’s climate body last December, developed countries are expected to help fund green energy and climate adaptation projects in Africa and deliver at least $100 billion a year in funds to all developing nations by 2020.

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Despite a recent OECD report estimating $62 billion a year was flowing, poorer nations say they are not seeing the levels of investment needed to raise people out of poverty and cope with future extreme weather impacts.

Adesina said initial plans would be “technology neutral”, pointing to South Africa’s large coal reserves and West Africa’s gas stocks alongside solar, wind and hydro.

Former UN secretary general Kofi Annan described the news as an “exciting moment”- but urged countries to take advantage of the plans to invest in climate-friendly energy systems.

“Eventually the idea is to go green and I think Africa has the possibility of being the first continent to be a green continent,” he said.

US aid agency chief Gayle Smith said this was “an idea whose time has come”, offering Washington DC’s support in raising funds.

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