Expanding access to electricity in sub-Saharan Africa is a huge engineering task that will require significant investment and a rethink of what energy supplies mean.
From low Earth orbit on a long, dark night, large areas of the Earth’s surface shine with the imprint of industry. Almost everywhere, steel lighting illuminates the vast night sky, a sign of the urbanization driven by technological innovation.
However, there are still several areas of the planet that are classified as “dark zones,” including sub-Saharan Africa. Most of the world’s people without access to electricity now live in sub-Saharan Africa. Some 600 million people lack access to electricity and energy infrastructure lags behind other regions.
The impact of this patchwork approach to energy supply is profound and fundamental, with electricity bills in some areas three to six times higher than those paid by grid users because of reliance on local generators.
Sub-saharan Africa’s population is growing rapidly and urbanization is accelerating, but problems with electricity are affecting the region’s development in everything from education to population. For example, children can’t read after sunset, and people can’t get life-saving vaccines because of a lack of proper refrigeration.
An active response to energy poverty is critical to achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which means the need for vigorous and diversified development of electricity infrastructure and generation facilities across the sub-Saharan region.
Utility 3.0, an off-grid renewable power generation facility, represents a new model for power generation around the world
The power supply is about to change
Today, 48 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, with a combined population of 800 million, generate as much electricity as Spain alone. Several ambitious infrastructure projects are underway across the continent to address this problem.
The West African Electric Power Community (WAPP) is expanding grid access in the region and establishing a distribution system to be shared among its member states. In East Africa, Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam will add 6.45 gigawatts of power to the country’s national grid.
Farther south in Africa, Angola is currently building seven large solar power plants equipped with one million solar panels that can generate 370 megawatts of electricity to power large cities and similar rural communities.
Such projects require large investments and ample supplies of materials, so steel demand in the region is bound to grow as local infrastructure expands. Electricity generated from conventional sources, such as natural gas, is also on the rise, as is electricity generated from renewable sources.
These large-scale projects have been described as “game changers” in rapidly urbanizing areas that will expand access to safe, affordable electricity. However, people living in more remote places need off-grid solutions, where small-scale renewable power projects can play a big role.
Technological alternatives to grid electricity have been steadily lowering costs, with solar lighting and improved battery and high-efficiency LED (light-emitting diode) lighting technologies also helping to expand access to electricity.
Small-scale steel solar farms could also be built in areas straddling the so-called “solar belt”, which stretches across the Earth’s equator, to provide electricity for all communities. This bottom-up approach to power generation, called Utility 3.0, is an alternative and complementary system to the traditional Utility model and could represent the future of the global energy transition.
Steel production and processing technologies will play a key role in the transformation of energy supply in sub-Saharan Africa, both in large-scale power generation projects spanning multiple regions and in small-scale, localized power generation projects. This is crucial for tackling energy poverty, achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and transitioning to a more sustainable economic development model.
Post time: Aug-09-2022