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Intermediary Cities : The Challenge of Sustainable Energy Catchphrase

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Intermediate cities, with a population between 100,000 and 1 million inhabitants, currently represent the majority of the urban population of the African continent. By the end of the 2020s, the majority of Africans will live in a city, and a good part of them will live in intermediate-sized cities. Access to affordable and reliable electricity from renewable energy sources is a sine qua non for the development of sustainable cities in Africa. In addition, electricity will also be essential to create 20 million jobs each year.

African countries will need electricity to absorb their demographic boom. It suffice to say that the challenge is daunting, the weakness of the production and distribution systems having never made it possible to meet the needs of the populations. Power cuts constitute part of daily life in African cities, as are the noisy diesel generators that regularly take over. In 2018, the installed capacities in all of sub-Saharan Africa (excluding South Africa) amounted to around 80 gigawatts (GW), i.e. almost half as much as in France (130 GW). This gives an idea of the immensity of the challenge that awaits Africa.

Indeed, on the ground, the central network suffers from an aging and obsolete infrastructure and a serious lack of maintenance. As a result, breakdowns and power cuts follow one another, penalizing consumers and hampering savings. Distribution companies are struggling to collect their revenues. Their financial situations are deteriorating. They must also fight against the theft of electricity via illegal connections. These companies are also seeing unpaid public bills pile up.

Administrations or local authorities are often among the bad payers. According to a World Bank study in 2016, out of 39 sub-Saharan countries, only 3 had tariffs that covered production and distribution costs. The IMF estimates the cost of economic losses due to the numerous power cuts in sub-Saharan Africa at between 1 and 5% of GDP.

For a long time, African cities have lived on diesel generators. To meet the demand on the central network, the States have recourse to emergency solutions, which are very often very expensive and which sometimes become permanent. However, Africa is endowed with a colossal solar electricity production potential, which should enable the region to meet its energy needs in a sustainable manner.

In 2017, 4.6 TWh (terawatt hours) of electricity from solar power was produced on the continent, while its theoretical potential is estimated at more than 60 million TWh per year. In comparison, Asia has a theoretical potential of 37.5 million TWh/year and Europe only 3 million TWh/year.

Untapped potential…

While Africa is largely under-equipped in terms of energy production, it has not yet taken the path of catching up and solar represents only 2% of its electricity mix. Out of 80 gigawatts (GW) installed, photovoltaic represents only 1.5 GW. Nearly half of Africans (600 million people) do not have access to electricity.

However, favorable winds are blowing. The sharp decline in the cost of photovoltaics, the multiplication of financing supported by donors and the appetite of the private sector for solar projects should have resulted in a greater use of solar energy. Unfortunately, the brakes and constraints remain significant.

Today, Africa is called upon to invent its own approach and its own trajectory of sustainable human development. To the extent possible, the development models to be implemented in Africa must be more energy efficient, more inclusive and more resilient. Africities-9 will be an opportunity to take stock of access to sustainable energy in intermediate African cities.

Sommaire<< Africa : Over 950 million new urban dwellers expected in Africa by 2050Stéphane Pouffary, Managing Director of ENERGIES 2050 >>
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