www.PowerEngineeringInt.com 3 Power Engineering International June 2017
growth that surpasses other regions. However,
in order to ensure that this growth is sustainable
and for African countries to achieve their
real growth potential, African governments
need to prioritize the establishment of reliable
and affordable electricity to industry and
Today, the importance of reliable and
affordable electricity supply is recognized by
African leaders as a necessity for economic
development and poverty reduction.
Players and challenges
Vertically integrated power utilities continue to
play a dominant role in most African countries.
One of the challenges is that these utilities are
generally viewed as sites of political patronage
and as vehicles for corruption. That being said,
various countries have undergone or plan to
undergo signifcant reforms by restructuring,
unbundling and privatizing these utilities.
The unbundling of utilities has resulted in
increased private sector participation in the
sector. In 2011, there were 60 medium-to-long-term power transactions involving the private
sector in sub-Saharan Africa, of which almost
half were independent power producers.
Private sector opportunities will continue to
grow in the region.
One of the major challenges to decreasing
Africa’s power defcit is that grid systems in
various African countries do not function very
well and are required to distribute electricity
over large distances. This is largely due to the
spatial planning of the energy distribution
system during the colonial era.
Losses in transmission and distribution are as
high as 50 per cent in some African countries;
imagine the cross-border transmission losses
over lines from, for example, South Africa to
Zambia. These losses include technical losses
(often due to poor maintenance, disruptions
to energy supply and aging infrastructure)
and losses as a result of theft. For example,
Nigeria has an installed capacity of 12. 5 GW,
but only 4. 5 GW of this is available and working,
according to the Africa Progress Panel.
If the functioning of the grid is not resolved,
it affects the long-term sustainability and
fnancial viability of the power sector. That
being said, the poor grid infrastructure and
long distances that electricity needs to be
distributed between creates an opportunity
for off-grid and mini-grid power generation.
In order to deal with this issue, it may be
worth considering private participation
in the construction and operation of grid
infrastructure. However, at present, most
African countries do not permit private entities
to construct or operate grid infrastructure.
The energy tetralemma
Due to the rapid economic growth and
demand for electricity in Africa, the low levels
of access to electricity and limited fnancial
resources, African countries require energy
technologies that will increase access to
electricity the at the fastest rate at lowest
cost. Accordingly, Africa is not only faced with
the energy trilemma (three challenges), but
the energy ‘tetralemma’, which indicates a
tough choice among four possibilities. Africa
requires an electricity-generating technology
that provides security of supply, equity and
affordability, sustainability and is able to come
It has been argued that the generation
and trade of electricity at the regional level
would help to resolve the African energy
challenge. Accordingly, various power pools
have been established with ambitious plans
to establish connections between countries.
In this regard, renewable energy
technologies offer two key advantages in
Africa: speed and decentralization. They can
operate both on- and off-grid. I would include
some of the impressive stats on renewable
energy potential, especially solar.
Due to its energy ‘tetralemma’, Africa is
at the forefront of creating a unique hybrid
energy supply system. Innovation and
technology, increasing energy demand
and the rise of urbanization could mean the
creation of more resilient and diverse systems
than those designed decades or centuries
ago in other countries. These systems could
have many modes, options and scalability.
The African Progress Panel envisages a system
where the grid still plays a signifcant role,
supported by off-grid households and mini-
grid communities where appropriate, and
supplemented by a cross-border supergrid.
After years of not being a priority, energy
policy is starting to move to centre-stage in
Africa. Governments are adopting ambitious
targets for power generation, backed in some
cases by far-reaching reforms of their energy
sectors. Private investors, domestic and foreign,
are seizing new market opportunities.
For example, Rwanda expanded electricity
access by 160 per cent in just three years
between 2008 and 2011, Mauritania increased
power generation threefold since 2000 and
Ethiopia increased net power generation from
1.3 billion k Wh to 6. 6 billion k Wh in 12 years,
according to the Africa Progress Panel’s 2015
As lessons are learned and best practices
are developed in the African context, the
African power defcit will continue to decrease.
Noor Kapdi and Daniél Hofmeyr work for law
frm Dentons. Kapdi leads the Dentons team in
South Africa while Hofmeyr is an associate in
Dentons South Africa.
POWER-GEN Africa and DistribuTECH Africa
take place on July 18–20 at the Sandton
Convention Centre in Johannesburg, South
for more information
Gas-fred gensets in Accra, Ghana