Bridging electricity supply-demand gap in West Africa hinge on proactive collaboration
by KELECHI EWUZIE
March 1, 2017 | 12:51 am| | | Start Conversation
West African countries have suffered from limited access to electric power and endemic electricity shortages, a report by the International Association for Energy Economics have indicated.
According to the report, this situation constitutes a bottleneck to their socio- economic development as electricity crisis in the sub-region has worsened in recent years in spite of the efforts made to construct new electric power plants and transmission networks.
In countries like Ghana, Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Guinea and Mali, there is significant under-investment in electricity supply capacity because the electric generating systems are structurally imbalanced.
Nigeria has one of the lowest rates of net electricity generation per capita in the world. Those with access to electricity face load shedding, blackouts, and a reliance on private generators.
This seeming lack of sustainable access to electricity has over the years been a brake on the economic development of most countries in Africa, where the proportion of people without electricity is higher than in any other continent.
Analysts observe that out of a sub-Saharan population of 600 million without access to electricity, 84 million are Nigerians. Worldwide, this represents the largest number of people without electricity, after India, which has 306 million, or 25 percent of its population.
Furthermore the heavy debt of most of the utilities in the region, and their low financing capability, mainly explain the under-capacity of electric generating systems in West African countries.
International Energy Association (IEA) in a report on the energy situation in West Africa Sub-region highlights that a lack of investment financing is one of the major barriers to expanding power capacity.
According to the report, “Domestic political pressures have, until recently, ruled out meaningful electricity tariff increases across the region, as citizens demand ever more affordable energy during the economic slowdown. The result has been dampened interest from electricity sector investors who fear they will not recoup their costs or are not impressed with the margins on offer”
Industry close watchers are of the view that retrofitting the existing installations and constructing new generation and transmission facilities require significant financial resources which are very difficult to attract due to the countries specific economic and political conditions.
They observed that at the moment, the governments are unable to provide the necessary funding for renovation and further development of electricity infrastructures. The obsolete equipment and management dysfunctions, in turn, help cause a weak performance of the whole electricity industry in the sub-region.
Energy availability at requires massive investments from the private sector with a well-articulated public policy to attract investment, Wumi Iledare, director, Emerald Energy Institute, University of Port Harcourt, observes
At the moment, reforms in the electricity industry have been gradually undertaken in the region under the initiatives of donors who sponsored them. The ongoing restructuring consists mainly in privatising the public electricity utilities in order to attract private funds to the electricity sector the International Association for Energy Economics report further indicate.
Iledare opines that in the case of Nigeria in particular and West Africa in general, there is no way government can solely be responsible for providing access to energy.
According to him, “While the industry needs liberalisation and restructuring to make energy available, it must be regulated at the end users market to ensure affordability”.
“For energy access to be sustainable, it requires massive investment in human capacity to manage the industry, its regulatory institutions and agencies effectively.” He said.
No doubt the West Africa region’s biggest challenge is that of bridging the gap between electricity supply and demand with average access rate to electricity in the region being about 30 percent.
Analysts are of the view that this huge gap requires a lot of proactive and innovative solutions the region hopes to meet the goal of sustainable energy for all by the year 2030.
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