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The energy challenge in sub-Saharan Africa

Sub-Saharan Africa’s energy systems face an enormous challenge. The region currently has the lowest electricity generation capacity and experiences the most acute forms of energy poverty in the world. Approximately 630 million people live without reliable access to electricity, and 790 million people are forced to rely on solid biomass to cook their food and heat their homes.

The results are deprivation, pollution, environmental damage, drudgery, and forgone economic opportunity. Compounding these challenges is Africa’s vulnerability to climate change, which means that traditional pathways to increasing energy supply, based on the burning of fossil fuels, will become increasingly unviable.

Recent reductions in the cost of renewable energy are creating new opportunities for sub-Saharan Africa to address the energy challenge without increasing greenhouse gas emissions and exacerbating environmental damage. They also offer new opportunities for connecting households to energy sources more quickly and more cheaply.

This pair of linked reports explores the scientific, technical, economic, and policy opportunities for renewable energy technologies to address Africa’s electricity generation shortfall and tackle the challenge of energy poverty. They identify issues of underinvestment in energy resources at household, national, and regional levels, and highlight the importance of state policy and institutions in meeting the energy challenge.

Decisions made on energy today in Africa will have long-term effects because they stand to lock the region into particular energy development pathways. Our aim is thus to inform the policy debates on these issues and make the technical dimensions of the challenge easily understandable so as to broaden the community of people engaging on this topic.

The reports have been published as part of Oxfam’s Research Backgrounder series.

Report brief (8 pages)

Full Report, Part1: “The energy challenge in sub-Saharan Africa: A guide for advocates and policy makers: Generating energy for sustainable and equitable development,” by Nkiruka Avila, Juan Pablo Carvallo, Brittany Shaw and Daniel Kammen (2017).

Full Report, Part 2: “The energy challenge in sub-Saharan Africa: A guide for advocates and policy makers: Addressing energy poverty,” by James Morrissey (2017). 



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