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Achieving Universal Energy Access in Sub-Saharan Africa: The Road Ahead

Across Sub-Saharan Africa, countries are struggling to achieve universal energy access and facilitate clean-energy transitions. Over 600 million Africans lack access to electricity, and the absence of reliable energy hampers socio-economic development in the region. With only six years left to meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 7 (SDG 7), which aims for “access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all,” addressing this energy crisis is urgent.

Current Energy Landscape

The energy situation in Sub-Saharan Africa is characterized by weak infrastructure, underfunding, low access to reliable and clean energy, and unequal distribution, with a significant focus on urban areas. In many countries, inadequate power generation impedes development goals, the functioning of basic public services, and the quality of life. Many sectors and daily activities, including education and healthcare, are severely impacted by the lack of electricity, limiting their operations to daylight hours.

Despite progress in certain countries, the overall situation on the continent is worsening. Between 2019 and 2021, the number of Africans without access to electricity increased by 4%. However, countries like Kenya, Rwanda, and Ghana are on track to achieve universal energy access by 2030, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Renewable Energy: A Path to Universal Energy Access

Renewable energy presents a viable solution for closing the energy-access gaps in Africa. Several large projects are on the horizon, but significant challenges remain.

East Africa

In East Africa, electricity access varies widely. Kenya leads with a 75% access rate as of 2018, while Tanzania is nearing 38% as of 2020. In contrast, Burundi had only 10% access in 2021. Countries like Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, and Sudan primarily rely on renewable sources for electricity.

The Eastern Africa Power Pool (EAPP), established in 2005, aims to improve energy access by interconnecting electricity grids. Larger economies in the region, such as Kenya, are advancing their clean-energy strategies. Kenya has shifted focus to geothermal, solar, and wind energy, abandoning a proposed coal power plant in Lamu. By 2021, approximately 81% of Kenya’s electricity generation came from renewables. Kenya is also exploring green hydrogen production and has released a plan in 2023 to promote the industry.

Hydropower, though promising, faces reliability issues due to erratic rain patterns exacerbated by climate change. Despite this, countries like Ethiopia and Tanzania are investing heavily in hydropower projects. Ethiopia’s Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam will have a capacity of 6.5 gigawatts (GW), making it Africa’s largest such facility. Tanzania’s Rufiji hydropower project is expected to become operational this year.

Solar energy is also gaining traction. East Africa has 27 utility-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) plants, with nearly 2.6 GW of capacity either announced or under construction. However, these projects often rely on foreign ownership and financing, as local governments typically lack the necessary capital.

West Africa

West Africa’s electricity access varies, with countries like Ghana, Nigeria, and Senegal achieving urban access rates above 80%. However, countries such as Burkina Faso, Niger, and Sierra Leone lag behind, with access rates around 55-65%. Many still rely on wood and charcoal for cooking and heating, while fossil fuels dominate electricity generation. In 2021, 42% of West African electricity came from gas, and 37% from petroleum products.

Solar power is rapidly growing in West Africa, driven by energy start-ups and the decreasing cost of solar PV. However, financing remains a challenge due to the poor financial health of state-owned utility companies. Initiatives like the World Bank-funded Regional Electricity Access and Battery-Energy Storage Technologies Project aim to address these issues by increasing grid connections and supporting renewable energy projects in vulnerable areas of the Sahel.

Southern Africa

Southern Africa has faced energy shortages since 2007, attributed to aging infrastructure, weak policies, and high costs of renewable energy. Although the region is rich in renewable resources, such as solar energy, renewables currently account for a small fraction of total power capacity. However, their share is growing, rising from 23% in 2015 to almost 39% in 2018.

Coal, oil, and gas continue to dominate due to their availability. However, renewable energy is becoming increasingly important for industrial needs. In Zambia, First Quantum Minerals is developing a 430 MW renewable energy project to power its mines. In Zimbabwe, the Chipangayi Renewable Energy Technology Park will include solar PV, green hydrogen production, and lithium-ion batteries.

Challenges and the Way Forward

Achieving universal energy access in Sub-Saharan Africa by 2030 is challenging but not impossible. Climate change, regional cooperation, and equitable renewable energy rollouts are crucial. Governments must adopt policies that encourage investment in renewable energy, improve infrastructure, and ensure fair access to clean energy.

Centurion’s Energy Transition Centre: Supporting Universal Energy Access

At ETC, we are committed to supporting Africa’s journey towards universal energy access. Our comprehensive advisory and legal services assist international clients in navigating the African energy market. We provide expertise in identifying business opportunities, securing financing, and ensuring compliance with local regulations. Our extensive network and deep understanding of the renewable energy sector enable us to facilitate partnerships with local businesses and governments, driving the development of sustainable energy projects across the continent. Partner with us to leverage Africa’s natural resources for a prosperous and sustainable future.


Ensuring universal energy access in Sub-Saharan Africa by 2030 requires significant effort and cooperation. By embracing renewable energy and fostering regional collaboration, African countries can overcome current challenges and achieve sustainable development goals, improving the quality of life for millions.

Shaping Africa’s Future at the Energy Transition Centre

As we embark on a critical journey towards a sustainable energy future, your involvement is crucial. The Energy Transition Centre at CLG is at the forefront of transforming Africa’s energy landscape, advocating for an energy mix, including renewable energy adoption to foster economic growth and improve quality of life. We invite you to join us in this essential mission. Whether you’re an industry expert, a policy maker, or a concerned citizen, your contribution can make a significant difference. For guidance, insights, or to share your ideas, feel free to contact the Energy Transition Centre today with questions:

Together, we can shape a brighter, more sustainable future.