About half of sub-Saharan Africa’s population today does not have access to electricity. Those who do have electricity pay on average nearly twice as much as consumers elsewhere in the world. Power shortages cost the continent about 2 to 4 percent of GDP a year.
And the large electricity needs will only grow in the foreseeable future. Given that the population in sub-Saharan Africa is expected to grow from 1 billion in 2018 to more than 2 billion in 2050, the demand for electricity is projected to expand 3 percent a year. This takes into account a steady increase in access to electricity as well as greater energy efficiency.
Meeting that demand with current energy sources would have severe consequences for health and the environment. The current energy mix in Africa is based mostly on burning coal, oil, and traditional biomass (wood, charcoal, dry dung fuel). This reflects the energy resources of the continent, but also the use of technologies of the past. While this energy mix is comparatively cheap, it is insufficient to meet current needs, and negative effects on the environment are left unaddressed. The continent’s sources of energy will need to change, especially if African governments aim to achieve a healthy environment for their citizens and meet the emission limits for greenhouse gases set out by the 2015 Paris Agreement.
Coady, D., I. Parry, Nghia N.-P., and B. Shang. 2019. “Global Fossil Fuel Subsidies Remain Large: An Update Based on Country-Level Estimates.” IMF Working Paper 19/89, International Monetary Fund, Washington, DC.
Schwerhoff, G. and M. Sy. 2017. “Financing Renewable Energy in Africa—Key Challenge of the Sustainable Development Goals.” Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 75 (August): 393–401.