Sub-Saharan Africa faces what some energy analysts have called the “66% situation.” Around 66% of the region’s population – more than 620 million people – have no access to electricity while 66% of energy investment in the region is aimed at exporting energy rather than using it internally.
This is all the more striking given that nearly a third of all global oil and gas discoveries between 2009 and 2014 occurred in the sub-Saharan region. According to the IEA, energy resources in sub Saharan Africa are more than sufficient to meet the needs of its population, yet they are highly underdeveloped.
But the situation is a stark reminder that even if a country has plenty of energy resources there is no guarantee that its citizens will have access to energy.
What would adequate energy access look like for sub-Saharan Africa and other developing economies around the world? This 66% paradox highlights that energy access is not only about energy supply. But rather it is about providing affordable energy services that work when people need them. It means being able to install and turn on a set of lights that efficiently use energy from a suitable, reliable source.
This is a major challenge for many emerging economies experiencing economic growth and rising living standards in both urban and remote areas.
In sub-Saharan Africa, the generation capacity of grid-based power continues to fall far short of demand. Expensive backup generators have become widespread to help deal with insufficient and unreliable power supply. Whenever there are peak levels of energy demand, power outages and “brownouts,” temporary reductions in voltage due to power shortages, become frequent.
Energy efficiency is a vital part of the answer for emerging economies seeking to improve energy access. By needing less energy overall to operate, energy-efficient solutions – from home appliances to industrial equipment – allows the energy savings to be used for elsewhere. Energy-efficient appliances have also reduced costs in off-grid energy systems by two-thirds in five years, enabling valuable off-grid investments to go further.
Energy efficient technologies help free up capacity in an energy grid and allow it to provide energy services to more consumers. Efficient equipment can also let users channel their energy savings into running additional energy services that have multiple benefits, such as improving workplace productivity or comfort at home.
Back in 2007, Ghana gained direct experience of these kinds of benefits. As part of its efforts to address electricity demand – which was growing at about 7% a year – Ghana became the first African nation to introduce an efficient lightbulb replacement programme for households.
Authorities had several aims: reducing peak electricity demand, brownouts and transformer overloads, and introducing consumers to more efficient technologies and energy-saving behaviours. Before implementation, waste in the end-use of electricity was estimated at around 30%.
In the space of three months, they handed out six million free compact fluorescent lamps and collected millions of old incandescent lights in turn.
The programme achieved peak savings of 124 megawatts, saving over USD 300 million in power plant investment to achieve the same peak capacity. In addition, the scheme saved almost USD 30 million between October 2007 and June 2008 alone. Over the next two years, installed CFLs in households increased from 3% to 79% of all bulbs.
The programme increased access to electric lighting in Ghana without any need for additional generation capacity. By making efficient lighting a reality for many Ghanaians, it improved both energy efficiency and energy access. It also helped pave the way for continued energy-efficient investment in the country by establishing two local factories to produce efficient lightbulbs, employing 100 workers.
For highly price-sensitive and energy-poor consumers in many developing countries, a free or low-cost technology, like an efficient light bulb, can open the door to better energy access and a better quality of life. Ghana’s example demonstrates that energy efficiency can boost energy access for consumers equally reliant on networks as well as off-grid systems.
This is the fourth of a five-part series on energy efficiency focusing on real-life examples in developing countries (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 5). Check out #EnergyEfficientWorld on Twitter to join the conversation.