Whenever Africa is mentioned anywhere around the globe, all that comes to mind – in most instances – is poverty, illiteracy and underdevelopment. This is a continent blessed with so many resources and minerals, yet its potential remains untapped, with majority of its countries lagging behind in the global order.

In most cases, Africa’s underdevelopment is normally related to mismanagement and a lack of effort, both from leaders and citizens. And normally we focus so much on our mineral resources, cash crops et al – thinking the misusage of the aforementioned are our only plights.

However, what many African countries have turned a blind eye to is the problem of power supply, which has proved to be big deficiency to nations on the continent.

The inconsistent supply of energy in Africa has played a major role in impeding economic development. And in fact it is causing huge difficulty for entrepreneurs in the region to manufacture and process products. What this means is that the cost of doing business is raised, while the confidence of investors is also dampened, making the lives of citizens very difficult, as they will need to pay more for goods bought and services rendered.

But in order to ensure a rapid development in Africa, we must innovatively implement strategies employed by developed countries to ensure we generate a stable, consistent and affordable power. Most of these countries have diversified power sectors, with a blend of hydropower, nuclear, gas, wind, and even solar, thus ensuring reliability, with areas that are not connected to the grid also being powered by standalone power systems.

Unfortunately, in Africa, most countries have only one source – a centralised distribution system which powers the entire country through the grid. The problem here, however, is that power generated in this regard only benefits people living in the urban and suburban communities, leaving most rural communities in the dark. This is because most rural areas are located at places far from the cities and further farther from the main grid, making it difficult to connect electricity.

To make matters worse, data by the International Agency Work Energy Outlook in 2014 shows that there are 622 million people on the continent without electricity – a figure which is close to half of Africa’s population. Today, electricity is as important as water; it is no longer a thing of luxury but a necessity, as one needs it to remain informed and relevant. As individuals you need lights, fans, television, phones, laptops, and radios to get up to speed with lively routines. Large organisations and factories also require even larger quantities of energy because their activities are power dependent. But do African countries produce enough power to cover all these areas?

Employing standalone systems to power rural areas on the continent is one way to make a breakthrough, and that should lead to development, as it will provide cheap and reliable energy which will promote productivity in these communities.

At the Paris climate conference (COP21) in December 2015 – where 195 countries adopted the first-ever universal, legally binding global climate deal and have taken a stand to mitigate climate change – one of the strategies employed was to go completely green.

Solar power has become more popular among other renewable energy sources, as it has an infinite source and it doesn’t have any moving parts, thus eliminating wear and tear. And more importantly it is very easy to install.

“One can only wonder why solar power generation is not yet very popular within most Africa countries” when Africa is blessed with higher sun intensity and longer peak sun hours. The continent is lucky to have a favourable condition which allows us to harvest more power to meet our needs, yet it remains untapped. And with the revolution in science and technology, solar cells have become cheap and are expected to become even cheaper in the nearest future.

Africa has lagged behind for so long, but power generation shouldn’t be one of major problems blighting the continent. The way forward, certainly, lies in finding alternate ways of generating power to cater for the needs of the various nations on the continent. But until we, as a continent, take the bold step to revolutionalise our power sector, electricity will continue to be defective commodity for Africa.

Perhaps it’s time to look at the bigger picture and put in some action geared towards improving power generation, and more essentially power supply on the continent.

By Umar Josiah Danbaba,

Research Fellow

Email: josiah@paccpolicy.org

 Edited by Emmanuel Ayamga

Associate Editor

Email: ayamga@paccpolicy.org