Umlilo Energy

Africa’s electrification challenges and the Just Energy Transition

Energy is the foundation of development and human prosperity. Yet, across the world, challenges around energy access, reliability and affordability continue to persist. These challenges are most prevalent in Sub-Saharan Africa and continue to be a key inhibitor for the continents’ growth.


Approximately 675 million people live without access to electricity About 80% of the world’s population without electricity continues to live in rural areas, predominantly in Sub-Saharan Africa In terms of access to clean fuels for cooking, the problem is even bigger: 2.3 billion people still continue to rely on coal, kerosene or solid biomass as their primary cooking fuel A lack of clean cooking is contributing to nearly 3.7 million premature deaths annually Access to clean affordable energy is not merely just a sustainable development goal, but a fundamental basic human right.


With regard to reliability, the afrobarometer survey findings from 34 African countries show that fewer than half of Africans enjoy a dependable supply of electricity from a national grid As a result almost a quarter of the African population rely on alternative sources of energy, primarily solar and expensive, polluting generators.  According to a report by the International Finance Corporation, Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest share of electricity output from generators in the world, at 9% of annual electricity consumption The report estimates that 6.5 million generators are deployed in sub-Saharan Africa, with about 3 million in Nigeria alone. The regional back-up generator fleet is about twice the installed grid capacity excluding South Africa


With respect to affordability, in Africa, up to 30 million people who previously enjoyed access to electricity can no longer afford it due to the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic This reversal in gains towards universal access points to the need to prioritise affordability alongside efforts to achieve universal access and improve reliability of electricity supply.

The challenges that have led to Africa lagging behind the rest of the world in terms of electrification and sustainable development more generally can be broadly categorised into internal factors and external factors. Internal factors such as the prevalence of corruption, political instability, exchange rate fluctuations, willingness and ability to pay challenges which have plagued the union of young democracies as they attempt to move out of the shadow centuries long colonial rule have been well documented. These factors often serve as the basis for heightened interest rates for African governments and renewable energy businesses alike. A renewed discussion is however emerging around the less publicised external factors such as inequitable distribution of climate finance, discriminatory lending rates and practices, the inadequate level of local ownership and participation in renewable energy projects and discourse, the long term effects of colonialism and the disproportionate effect of climate change on Africa.

According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), renewable energy is now the cheapest form of energy, and its capacity is set to rise significantly over the next few decades. The share of renewable power continues to rise from year to year, with nearly 30% renewables in the global power mix at present and renewables dominating yearly capacity additions According to another IRENA publication, global investment in clean energy has hit near record highs at US$ 1.7 trillion. While this is reason for hope, only 3% of global climate finance trickles to Africa despite being the most vulnerable continent to the impacts of climate change (and only having had accounted for 3% of the cumulative carbon emissions globally) According to a report by the Climate Policy Initiative, sub-Saharan Africa requires USD 277 billion annually to implement its Nationally Determined Contributions under the Paris Agreement, but annual climate finance flows in Africa stand at only USD 30 billion, a little over 10% of what is required. Concessionary climate finance has been a key driver for renewable energy growth globally. Africa’s inequitable access to climate finance directly impacts its energy access efforts.

The insufficient renewable energy investment challenge is exacerbated by the prevailing cost of capital in the region. “While wealthy countries could print money to revive their economies post the COVID-19 pandemic, developing countries could not do likewise and are grappling with exorbitant borrowing costs — up to eight times higher than those of developed countries” according to Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, the president of the African Development Bank Group The significant risk premium paid by Africa adversely affects its energy access efforts and ultimately increases the costs of renewable energy projects.

Given the complex and multifaceted nature of the renewable energy operating environment in Africa, when developing holistic renewable energy interventions, actors need to consider internal and external factors that affect energy access, reliability and affordability. Just Energy.


Transition is one such approach. In principle the “Just Energy Transition” refers to the concept of transitioning from traditional, fossil-fuel-based energy systems to more sustainable, renewable, and environmentally friendly energy sources in a manner that ensures fairness, equity, and social justice. This transition acknowledges the broader socio-economic impacts and aims to address and minimise any negative consequences on vulnerable communities, workers in traditional energy sectors, and other marginalised groups. Key elements of a just energy transition include:

  • Equity: Ensuring that the benefits of the transition are distributed fairly across different social groups and communities. This involves avoiding disproportionate negative impacts on vulnerable or marginalised populations.
  • Inclusivity: Involving diverse stakeholders, including local communities, workers, and other affected groups, in the decision-making processes related to the energy transition. This ensures that a variety of perspectives are considered, and the transition is inclusive.
  • Job Transition: Recognizing the potential displacement of workers in traditional energy sectors and facilitating their transition to new, sustainable employment opportunities. This may involve retraining programs, support for alternative job creation, and social safety nets.
  • Community Engagement: Engaging communities in the planning and implementation of renewable energy projects to ensure that they benefit directly from these initiatives and have a say in the decision-making process.
  • Environmental Justice: Considering and addressing environmental inequalities, ensuring that the burdens and benefits of energy production are distributed equitably, and avoiding the concentration of pollution and environmental degradation in specific communities.

A just energy transition is not only about reducing carbon emissions and adopting cleaner technologies but also about creating a more equitable and sustainable energy system that takes into account the broader social and economic implications of the transition. This concept has gained prominence as societies globally work toward achieving climate goals while ensuring social justice and inclusivity.

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