Addressing the Challenges in Accessing Electricity in Africa

Almost 20 years ago, approximately 400 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa had no access to electricity.

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Today, the number of people without access has increased, as the population growth has outpaced infrastructure development. As a result, there are over 600 million people with no access to electricity today.

The lack of access to electricity is a particular problem in rural areas. Around 63% of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa is rural, of which only 19% has access to energy, compared to 63% of the urban population.

Access to clean and affordable energy is critical for development; it is vital in powering water supplies, telecommunication services, health care, education and of course, preserving the environment. Moreover, it could be the catalyst for economic development in rural areas where it has the potential to create more jobs and new industries.

However, if current energy access trends continue, there will still be 655 million people in Africa without access to power in 2030.

To date, government’s preferred approach to addressing electricity access in Africa has been through large-scale grid rollout programmes. For people living in rural areas – often with no grid nearby – this approach is not only impractical but also unsustainable in the long term. For this reason, Africa’s rural population are better off turning to alternative off-grid solutions for their energy needs.

“Schneider Electric has placed access to energy at the heart of our company strategy, where sustainability forms the basis of all of our key objectives and indicators. Our role is to make sure that Life Is On for everyone, and we achieve this by delivering efficient, and sustainable solutions,” says Zanelle Dalglish, Schneider Electric South Africa’s head of Sustainable Development for Anglophone Africa.

“By providing access to clean and affordable energy, we are helping to curb the growing global demand – effectively addressing concerns around climate change while also closing the energy gap throughout rural communities.”

As far as innovation is concerned, the demand for new technologies and services capable of merging high performance with environmental considerations has increased. Fortunately, advances in technology are changing rapidly, and falling solar technology costs, and evolving battery storage technology continue to spur the growth of micro-grid and standalone household systems.

As a result, the potential to decentralise access to electricity has become a more feasible and attractive solution to the problem. Decentralised power in Africa, particularly in rural communities, could have the added benefits of unlocking the economy in these areas, alleviating poverty and reducing dependency on government, a critical step in countries where corruption is rife.

“We need to understand that we cannot effectively address the challenges around education, health and economic empowerment with ensuring that there is sufficient access to energy. As Schneider Electric, we view this a basic human right. And, when it comes to addressing the challenges in Africa, it’s also important we understand that there is no one size fits all solution. If we are going to tackle this problem, we need to do it through effective partnerships, and we need to be prepared to do the hard work – one community at a time,” she says.

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