Powering West and Central Africa for a Brighter Future

*Macky Sall, President of the Republic of Senegal, and Ousmane Diagana, World Bank Vice-President for Western and Central Africa

While Senegal’s level of electrification is one of the highest in West Africa with an 80% access rate, many countries on the continent are experiencing a real energy crisis.

Indeed, 220 million people – nearly half of the region’s population – lack access to electricity, thereby limiting their ability to engage in entrepreneurship or access adequate education and health services. To achieve universal access to electricity, the pace of electrification in West and Central Africa must triple by 2030.

Access to affordable, reliable, and sustainable energy is a crucial condition for improving the quality of life for everyone and is also a necessity for transforming the continent.

The good news is that the revolution underway in the field of off-grid energy access in our countries. In the Dakar Call to Action on July 7, 2022 at the IDA 20, African leaders expressed a strong commitment to universal energy access and emphasized the importance of a just and equitable transition for the continent. In this context, African countries plan to use their natural gas resources, among other sources, as a transitional energy to achieve universal electricity access goals at a lower cost while facilitating job creation.

With high oil prices, Africa remains fossil-fuel dependent, especially as fuel subsidies have significantly increased, putting a heavy burden on government’s budgets. The poor quality of power supply tops the concerns in assessing the investment climate and hinders the digitization of economies. Doubling World Bank’s annual investments in energy access over the last three years has resulted in significant achievements in fragile countries.

For example, In the Central African Republic (CAR), a new 25-Megawatt solar park with battery storage will provide electricity to 250,000 people, doubling its electricity generation capacity. This solar park will replace over 90% of energy currently generated by diesel, resulting in annual savings of $4 million in fuel costs for the government. The commissioning of a large solar plant of this scale in CAR, accompanied with five mini-grids and the electrification of over 600 schools and hospitals, as well as 50% of households by 2030, can serve as a model for other countries.

Another example of large-scale investment in solar energy is the Regional Urgent Intervention Project in the solar energy sector. This project proposes a competitive bidding model to increase electricity access for millions of consumers in Chad, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Togo. It aims to boost renewable energy capacity connected to the grid, as well as regional transmission and interconnections.

Achieving universal electricity access across Africa will require over $200 billion in financing with a crucial role for private investment. To accomplish this, it is imperative to strengthen regulatory frameworks and develop financially sound electricity companies.

Yet, scaling up energy access requires digital technology, least-cost national electrification plans to facilitate larger investments in off-grid and on-grid clean energy solutions, improved policy frameworks, financially viable power utilities to enable additional private investments across the energy value chain, and increased regional energy trade between countries.

In Nigeria, the Distributed Access through Renewable Energy Scale-Up Platform (DARES) aims to expand access by developing renewable energies while raising over a billion dollars in private financing to provide electricity access to more than 15 million people.

As of June 2023, Senegal has signed a Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP) with its partners, including Germany, Canada, France, the United Kingdom, and the EU. Under this partnership, the country has committed to increasing the share of renewable energy in its energy mix from 31% to 40% by 2030, with the support of its partners (mobilizing €2.5 billion in new and additional financing over an initial period of 3 to 5 years).

Among these projects, the one related to expanding access to energy allows the country to enhance the resilience of critical public infrastructure, such as schools and health centers. It also aims to support the development of small and medium-sized enterprises by connecting them to the grid or to off-grid solar power stations.

Furthermore, the country is making progress in mobilizing funding from both the public and private sectors to support its goals of expanding access to energy. Additional investments are now focusing on narrowing gaps and connecting everyone to the grid.

Facilitating regional energy trade to lower costs and provide broader and more reliable access is a priority. In this regard, the successful launch of the interconnection of the electrical grids of 14 out of 15 ECOWAS member countries is commendable. This initiative holds numerous benefits within the framework of the West African Power Pool (WAPP). Guinea-Bissau is expected to join the interconnection soon to reap the benefits in terms of regular and reliable access to energy.

Universal access to affordable energy is essential for improving the living conditions of African populations, as well as strengthening social services. It is crucial for the structural transformation of economies, thereby boosting competitiveness and job creation. Also, within the framework of expanded cooperation with bilateral and multilateral institutions together with countries in the sub-region, leveraging the expertise and resources of the World Bank is critical to accelerate the pace of electrification on our continent. This is an important message on the eve of COP28.

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