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Electricity Practitioners Share Knowledge to Increase Energy Access in Sub-Saharan Africa

  • One of the major obstacles to increasing access to electricity in Africa is the inability for practitioners to gain knowledge in real time
  • As many as 230 representatives met in November to discuss approaches to increasing access to electricity throughout the continent
  • Participants gathered vital information from various workshops on energy and from one another

DAKAR, January 18, 2012 – Lack of reliable and adequate electricity continues to be a problem in Sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in rural areas where access to electricity is as low as 10 percent.  One of the major obstacles to increasing electricity access is the difficulty energy practitioner’s face gathering practical and timely knowledge on overcoming existing barriers to electrification in their daily work. 

But during a recent workshop through the Africa Electrification Initiative (AEI), a three-year project to create and sustain knowledge and a network of practitioners in the areas of design and implementation, electrification experts from across Africa gathered to share details of ground-level implementation of projects.

About 230 representatives from energy ministries, utilities, rural energy agencies, private companies, universities and research centers met in Dakar this past November to discuss institutional approaches to electrification, with a focus on rural energy agencies and funds.

“Energy access is one of Africa’s great challenges,” said Lucio Monari, the World Bank sector manager for energy. “It’s vital that we have this type of exchange of experience between countries and electrification practitioners, to identify what works and what doesn’t.”

Some of the common challenges identified by Dakar participants included creating low-cost technical solutions for grid extension, setting workable tariffs for rural electricity, improving the efficiency of hybrid mini-grid systems, increasing the use of smart meters, and leveraging climate funds and carbon finance to improve access to electricity.

Among the more popular sessions was one on ways to make solar photovoltaic (PV) solutions sustainable, while another presented examples of utilities that have successfully managed to reduce investment costs using new technical designs and standards. A discussion of financing charges for grid scale-up was enhanced by examples from Kenya, Senegal, Uganda and South Africa, which addressed how to support access for poor households. Among participants, there was recognition that there are workable methods to reduce costs without compromising service standards.

“As high connection charges are a stiff barrier to access in my country, I am planning to immediately introduce measures discussed here at the workshop,” one Rural Energy Agency participant in an anonymous questionnaire after the workshop.

Several workshop participants in Dakar called for a future meeting to be held in a rural area where electrification challenges are a reality. For many delegates, a highlight of the meeting was a Lighting Africa exhibition, which offered a chance to see new products.

“Seeing first-hand the new products that are reaching the market, and understanding the role of the private sector in getting them out to the end user, have helped me immensely,” a workshop practitioner shared on the questionnaire. “Hearing directly from entrepreneurs is also a great thing.”

This is the second meeting of the AEI network, which has grown significantly since the original meeting in Maputo, Mozambique in 2009. That workshop brought together 170 practitioners, and opened a discussion of the broader challenges they face in supplying electricity across the region. Since then, practitioners have been able to access an online database of relevant documentation, discussion papers and ideas forums, available through the AEI website.

“Together, participants at Dakar were able to pass on ideas about innovation and how to build local capacities,” Monari said. “In the short period since Maputo, AEI has built a substantial bank of knowledge, establishing itself as an important tool for sharing best practice. This offers great potential for achieving sustainable results on the ground.”

The workshop comes at an important juncture, as the United Nations has just launched the Sustainable Energy for All campaign with an overall goal of universal access and increased deployment of renewables and energy efficiency by 2030.

“The true impact of this workshop will be demonstrated in follow-up actions at the country level, ultimately leading to increased energy access, enhanced economic and social development, and reduced poverty,” said Demba Balde, Acting Country Manager for Senegal, World Bank. “Improving the lives and livelihoods of the energy poor throughout Sub-Saharan Africa will be our greatest achievement.”

The AEI Dakar workshop was co-organized by the Rural Electrification Agency of Senegal (ASER), the European Union Energy Initiative Partnership Dialogue Facility (EUEI PDF), and the Africa Energy Unit of the World Bank through support from the Africa Renewable Energy Access Program (AFREA) and the Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP).

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