Electrical Power & Protection

Access to energy – the African imperative

March 2024 Electrical Power & Protection

Quintin McCutcheon, global marketing director, Anglophone Africa at Schneider Electric.

The ongoing energy crisis has set back global progress on universal access to electricity. According to the newest International Energy Agency (IEA) World Energy Outlook data, 660 million people will still be without access to electricity in 2030, with 85% living in sub-Saharan Africa.

The good news is that the IEA report says microgrids are becoming the most cost-effective way to expand energy access in remote areas. Considering current scenarios, the IEA also predicts that by 2030, 25% of people that have access to electricity in developing countries will be powered by microgrids, fuelled by renewable energy sources such as solar.

For critical sectors and services such as healthcare, or petrol stations on remote highways, access to resilient power sources is often a life-or-death scenario. A microgrid offers a feasible backup solution, intelligently generating and managing distributed energy resources (DERs), ensuring that during power outages local organisations and communities can still generate and use electricity.

The level of access to electricity is different from country to country. However in countries such as Nigeria and Myanmar, less than 60% of communities have access to electricity. For these communities, which are out of reach of the main grid due to economic or locational reasons, installing microgrids is the simplest and fastest way to provide access to power.

A microgrid can also incorporate various renewable energy sources. With companies increasingly emphasising their climate and sustainability agenda, and the global push for decarbonisation, microgrids assist in meeting these sustainability targets.

The continued electrification of Africa

Electricity is the backbone of Africa’s new energy systems, powered increasingly by renewables. According to the IEA, Africa is home to 60% of the best solar resources globally, yet only 1% of installed solar PV capacity. That said, solar PV – already the cheapest source of power in many parts of Africa – is set to outcompete all sources continent-wide by 2030.

Universal access to affordable electricity, a goal set to be achieved by 2030 in the Sustainable Africa Scenario (SAS), requires bringing connections to 90 million people a year, triple the rate of recent years.

Fortunately, there are success stories such as Ghana, Kenya and Rwanda, which are on track to reach full access by 2030. The IEA detailed analysis shows that extending national grids is the least costly and most prudent option for almost 45% of those gaining access up to 2030. In rural areas, where over 80% of the electricity-deprived live, microgrids and standalone systems – mostly solar based – are the most viable solutions. Moreover, renewables, including solar, wind, hydropower, and geothermal will account for over 80% of new power generation capacity by 2030, according to SAS.

Tangible interventions

At Schneider Electric, we believe that by equipping young people with skills and giving them the means to support their families, we can contribute to the growth of the local electricity and electrotechnical sectors. This, in turn, will improve quality of life and create sustainable jobs.

The Schneider Electric Foundation also provides long-term support for vocational and entrepreneurial training organisations. These include associations and electrical profession educational institutions. The vocational training and entrepreneurship programme captures 67% of the funding allocated by the Foundation.

Furthermore, the Schneider Electric’s Access to Energy programme focuses its efforts on three areas: training and entrepreneurship programmes, social and inclusive business, and impact investment funds. Since 2009, the Access to Energy programme has electrified 39,7 million people, trained more than 397 000 students, 6992 trainers, supported more than 5600 entrepreneurs and invested in 26 companies.

As an impact company, our goal is to provide 50 million people with access to clean electricity, train one million people, and support 10 000 entrepreneurs by 2025. In Africa, our Access to Energy programme has connected more than 25 million people, and trained 28 000 people in 90-plus training centres situated in 27 countries.


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