Electricity access remains an urgent problem across the continent

Africa has avoided creating a coal dependency in the way Asia has. Many countries are coal-free, with South Africa the notable exception, home to 87% of Africa’s coal generation. There are very few plans to build new coal power plants in Africa; only a handful more are likely to ever get commissioned on the entire continent.

However, the lack of fossil fuel dependency because Africa has not seen the burst in electricity use that has characterised Asia’s climb out of poverty. Most of the world’s population still without access to electricity are in Africa. For those that do have access, it’s unreliable, and use per person is far lower than the global average. Africa has 18% of the world’s population, but just 3% of the world’s electricity generation.

Electricity demand is growing, albeit not as quickly as one would hope, but clean electricity is growing even slower. Only a third of Africa’s electricity demand growth in the last half-decade was met with renewables – the remaining two-thirds was met with fossil gas. There has always been a high dependence on fossil gas across northern Africa, and this is now becoming more common across other African countries. Reliance on expensive fossil gas is another burden for African economies, when large renewable energy resources are plentiful. Despite being the sunniest continent, only 0.5% of the solar panels installed in 2021 were in Africa.

After very slow electricity demand growth in the last decade, electricity use grew by +6.7% in 2021 across Africa, almost as fast as Asia (+7.8%),

To limit global temperature rises to 1.5C, South Africa will need to rapidly transition out of coal power, and northern African countries will need to reduce their legacy gas power generation. However, for the rest of Africa, power sector emissions are minimal, and the biggest challenge is to build enough clean electricity to meet growing electricity demand, and avoid an expensive gas bridge.


Last updated: March 2022

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