These charts show reliable electricity is still a luxury for more than half of Africa

In Africa, being connected to electricity grids is not a guarantee of power supply.
In Africa, being connected to electricity grids is not a guarantee of power supply.
Image: reuters/Akintunde Akinleye
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Africa’s electricity problems continue to limit the continent with only 40% of Africans enjoying reliable power supply, claims a new report.

Access—defined as living within the range of an electrical grid—remains a major mitigating factor among some countries. While the average percentage for access to electric grids across the continent stands at 66% for the 36 African countries surveyed by Afrobarometer, 13 countries still have 50% or less of their populations with any access to electricity.

As expected, the continent’s bigger economies such as Nigeria (90%) and South Africa (95%) recorded high percentages for access to grids. Only two countries, Mauritius and Egypt, recorded 100% access. Regionally, North and East Africa stand out albeit for contrasting reasons. North Africa enjoys the continent’s highest rates for access to electricity while East Africa lags behind the rest of the continent.

While access to electricity grids is one thing, being connected is quite another. In the same vein, being connected to the grids is also not a guarantee of reliable power supply. Predictably, countries like Mauritius with high connection rates show high levels of reliable supply while Burundi with low connection rates show low levels of reliable supply. But it is not entirely straightforward across the board.

For example, Nigeria has an access rate of 90% and a connection rate of 96% but a low reliable power supply rate of only 18%. Similarly, Tanzania with only 23% of the population connected to electric grids, they enjoy a high 54% of reliable power supply. This disparity is perhaps the single biggest evidence that while the continent might share similar problems, a one-size-fits-all solution will not provide remedy.

There is an upside to the huge gap in electricity infrastructure as it is opening up opportunities and rams home the need for affordable renewable energy. For example, East Africa’s electricity shortfalls are resulting in an increased presence of alternatives as more people now turn to solar technology in the region. Start-ups like M-Kopa, with low-cost pay-as-you-go solar power solutions, now provide some viable options for Africans without access to grids or reliable power supply. Backed by $19 million in funding, M-Kopa plans to provide power to a million homes on the continent by 2017. M-Kopa is not a sole example. Renewable energy projects in sub-Saharan Africa have attracted over $25 billion in investment and the African Union has also announced plans to invest $20 billion to develop renewable energy on the continent.