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Nearly 600 million, or 48% of Africa’s population, still lack access to electricity, with the majority living in rural areas. It is projected that roughly the same number of people will not have access by 2030. This is according to the Economic Commission for Africa’s Executive Secretary, Vera Songwe, who says that this is the case despite the fact that there was additional electricity access to 26 million Africans between 2012 and 2016.

Africa needs to enable renewable energy

Speaking at a recent high level workshop on accelerating the renewable energy transition, Songwe said that it was disheartening that nearly 848 million, or 72% of Africa’s population lack clean cooking solutions with 90% or more relying on biomass for heat energy. “Africa has to act fast and now to increase the number of people with access to electricity. We have to quadruple our efforts on energy if we are to achieve the sustainable development goals and Agenda 2063. Without energy we cannot have the development that we so yearn for,” she said.

“Right now the continent is moving towards the game-changing African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) where collectively we can wield the strength of the African continent better than we can individually by trading more with each other, but the AfCFTA requires production, which requires energy. We need to enact policies and regulations that can quickly enhance the enabling environment for deployment of renewable energy programmes in Africa and make it easy for the private sector to play its role in helping accelerate the energy transition on the continent.”

According to Songwe, innovation on the ground is encouraging so far, although the pace needs to pick up as the continent tries to address its power challenges. Boosting access to electricity through innovation and better regulation was crucial, the ECA Chief said.

Speaking at the same event, Roberto Vigotti, Secretary General of Res4Africa, said that lack of sufficient power generation capacity, poor transmission and distribution infrastructure, high costs of supply to remote areas, or simply a lack of affordability for electricity, are among the biggest hurdles for affecting Africa’s desire to extend grid-based electricity.

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