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Africa’s power policy ‘least developed in world’, says World Bank report

Africa’s power policy ‘least developed in world’, says World Bank report

Sub-Saharan Africa still has one of the least developed policy environments for energy access in the world and continues to lag behind other developing regions, according to a damning report from the World Bank. 

A new scorecard released by the Bank – Regulatory Indicators for Sustainable Energy – found that over 70% of Africa’s least electrified nations – those with access rates of less than 20% – have ‘barely begun’ to implement a policy environment to boost electricity generation. 

Aside from the adoption of officially approved electrification plans, Africa trailed Asia on all of the scorecard’s energy access indicators, which assess regulations around modern energy access, energy efficiency and renewable energy. Seventeen African nations achieved the scorecard’s weakest overall score, while South Africa was the only nation in sub-Saharan Africa to score the highest.

The report highlighted Ethiopia, Nigeria and Sudan as countries of particular concern, where some 116m are collectively underserved by electricity. The conclusions will add to fears that Africa’s policymakers are failing to turn ambitious electrification plans into reality.

Outdated regulations, excessive bureacratic interference and technological inefficiencies have long been highlighted as a drag on electricity generation and economic development on the continent, yet progress continues to be scarce. Connecting to the grid still costs over $500 for consumers in some Africa countries, compared to just $22 in Bangladesh, according to the report. While Africa has struggled to turn rhetoric into reality, both India and Bangladesh have emerged as leaders in

While Africa has struggled to turn rhetoric into reality, both India and Bangladesh have emerged as leaders in grid and off-grid solutions, it adds. The continent has not been short on talking shops and initiatives in its bid to get to the bottom of the issue.

In recent years, the African Development Bank (Afdb) under the leadership of President Akinwumi Adesina has prioritised electrification programmes, while the US launched the ambitious Power Africa in a bid to ensure a more conducive environment for private sector investment. Meanwhile, policymakers talk of introducing nuclear and renewable solutions in a bid to overhaul the enduring power deficit and respond to the environmental challenges thrown up by the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, which pledged to ensure universal access by 2030.

Yet over 600m Africans still lack basic energy access, a problem which the Africa Progress Panel estimates will require $55bn a year in investment by 2030 to fix. Countries across the continent need to improve on solar provision, poor energy efficiency, financially unviable utilities and a policy deficit for grid expansion, according to the report.

“The battle to reach universal electricity access to electricity will be lost or won in Africa. On average sub-Saharan African countries score only 35 out of 100 on the policy environment for energy access. Africa’s performance stands in stark contrast to Asia…where countries are taking the policy environment much more seriously and scoring on average 90 out of 100,” says Vivien Foster, energy economics global lead at the World Bank.

However, the report offers some bright spots for the continent’s policymakers. Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania are commended for implementing strong policy frameworks, while South Africa is highlighted as a ‘renewable energy leader’ and cited for its long-term policy approach, which saw electrification rates rise from 34% in 1994 to 76% in 2014. 

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Written by David Thomas

David Thomas is chief features writer at African Business Magazine. He has also been published at the Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal and South Africa's Cape Times.

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