Which African nations have the lowest mains electricity coverage and how will improvements increase economic output?

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As a citizen of a developed nation, I sometimes take for granted the infrastructure that I work and live in. In the UK nearly everyone has access to main electricity and utilities, where it is only some very remote areas whereby a more localised solution is generated.

In Africa however it is a very different story.

Some regions in Africa are developing quickly, whereby they have “Westernised” and developed through either tourism, mining or manufacturing. There are some very affluent areas in Africa, whereby the land is very desirable due to mineralogy or tourism. Unfortunately, some areas despite having so much activity occurring in the form of natural resource mining, have had little development in them. Other areas have been war torn, and infrastructure is minimal.

Electricity in general is considered a key driver of the economy along with other infrastructure components. Development comes when the supply of electricity is unhindered. When a suitable and constant electricity supply is present it offers stability to individuals and businesses alike. In turn when a suitable supply is in place, it is also commonly less expensive for the consumer, allowing for production costs in industry and business expenses to reduce in toe.

As both agriculture and industrial activity increases, proportional in most cases to population increase, the demand for energy rises too. Many theories often claim that a greater access to energy will both help the economy grow but also greatly improve the lives of the poor.

The countries in Africa that have the poorest supply of main electricity are as follows:

Burundi 7.6%

Burundi faces catastrophic and constant issues with their mains electricity supply. The countries mains are powered fundamentally by hydroelectric power plants, which in turn have an output greatly affected by the seasons. Even during the wet season the grid operates at a deficit in the region of 13MW.

Chad 8.8%

Chad currently only has about 125MW of installed generation capacity to supply power to the entire population of approximately 15 million people. Chad is enriched with high levels of oil reserves, therefore there is scope for extensive investment and development.

South Sudan 8.9%

The access to electricity is improving an increasing in South Sudan, however are still operating at a roughly 500MW deficit, therefore are need further supplies.

Malawi 11%

Malawi has one of the worst access to rural areas in the world, with estimates at only two percent. In urban areas it is not greatly better. The situation has huge negative impacts on both environmental and economic development.

Central African Republic 14%

Central African Republic has poor access to electricity, especially away from the capital Bangui. The result is that wood and charcoal dominates the domestic energies for cooking and heating.

Guinea Bissau 14.7%

Guinea Bissau reports that 33% of the urban areas have access to electricity and only 4% of rural areas. Fuelwood supplies about 90 percent of the energy consumed in Guinea-Bissau. This is translating into a deforestation rate of 30000 ha/year of a 2 million ha forest.

In contrast the more developed nations in Africa have a better, but by no means perfect supply of mains electricity.

Cape Verde 92.6%

Almost all of the island’s residents have access to electricity, but some rely still on firewood and charcoal for cooking. They have pledged to obtain all its electricity from renewable resources by 2025. Currently most of the power in cape verde power is produced by diesel generators.

Gabon 91.4%

Gabon currently has over 400MW of installed generation capacity, including large volumes produced by hydro projects, through major dam projects.

South Africa 84.2%

South Africa, although boasting one of the best electrification rates in Africa is estimated to still have over 2 million households without power.

Where there is severe electricity supply challenged the result is a loss of production. In Ghana, for example, the supply challenges have cost the nation circa $2million daily. The causes for the issues in relation to power are not only due to the unavailability of adequate power being produced, but also high levels of losses in distribution equipment. The instability of the currency in many countries makes it problematic also, whereby consumers are not able to pay for the services and a poor tariff structure makes it difficult for utility companies to recover the cost of electricity production.

Reliable power supply is crucial for the development of business and infrastructure. Without either of these two things, economic output is minimal. In most cases, trade is reliant on there being a power supply, both for manufacturing/production and for the development of relationships in this modern era.

In many African countries people are heavily reliant on solar power, however this typically is not a suitable solution for reliable power where there is great demand in a short time period. The most suitable solution is the introduction of back up diesel generators or UPS systems.

Most processes require electrical power, where technology has moved away from primitive manual tools, to advanced and accurate computer driven tooling. In this modern era, most development that will have an effect on economic output is reliant on the use of computer equipment. Economic output is reliant on trade, whereby computer technology is crucial. Whilst the provision of power is crucial, the implementation is very expensive, and the investment in the supply of power could be detrimental to an economy unless it can be supported by growth in toe. In recent years many African countries have seen high levels of investment from Asian markets. Along with the introduction of major additional electrical generation plants, increased local manufacturing has begun and mining is being undertaken. Some areas, particularly landlocked countries and rural areas in less developed countries particularly have a much lower access to mains power or power of any sort in some cases. There is continued progress and desire to supply all regions with a combination of mains and localised power, and many countries are formulating and reviewing plans and objectives to undertake.

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