Bringing power to Africa through partnerships

Working with private-sector partners, governments and institutions, Power Africa is taking electricity to the most remote corners of the continent, writesAndrew M Herscowitz, Coordinator, Power Africa and Trade Africa
“It was September last year that I heard that electricity is coming to my boma. We got very excited. We knew all the benefits that we will be getting from it, especially the light. Now, you can do everything you want at any time, during the day or during the night.” – Elizabeth, a young Maasai woman in rural Tanzania.
Partnerships represent the very essence of Power Africa. In part, without the strong relationships that we have developed since the President of the United States, Barack Obama, launched Power Africa two years ago, young people such as Elizabeth, who lives in a small village hundreds of kilometres away from Tanzania’s national grid, would still lack access to electricity. Power Africa works with partners, large and small, government and private sector, to help ensure that power projects start delivering electricity to people across the continent. We can only accomplish this goal through partnerships because the cost of electrifying sub-Saharan Africa far outstrips what any government, donor or company can do alone.
Since June 2013, more than 100 of Power Africa’s private-sector partners have committed more than $20 billion for new power-generation projects in sub-Saharan Africa. Our partnerships are now more important than ever, with President Obama’s announcement in August 2014 to triple Power Africa’s goals after its first year, making it clear that we will work together to double access to electricity across all of sub-Saharan Africa. Power Africa will help to bring online 30,000 megawatts (MW) of new, cleaner electricity-generation capacity and will increase access with 60 million new home and business connections. The President also pledged a new level of $300 million in assistance per year to support this expansion.
In the case of Elizabeth’s boma, through a unique collaboration with the US National Academy of Sciences, Power Africa partnered with the International Collaborative for Science, Education and Environment, a non-profit organisation working to install solar panels throughout Tanzanian villages to provide electricity services to people for the very first time.
As the post-2015 development agenda emerges, innovative and dynamic partnerships will be crucial for achieving what the World Bank has called the “unfinished business” of the Millennium Development Goals. Sub-Saharan Africa has made remarkable progress in health, food security, education and poverty indicators – but electricity access remains far too low. By partnering to leverage the resources and technical skills of the private sector, government and international donors, Power Africa is unlocking this key driver of development.
Power Africa accelerates power project development and energy access efforts. In July 2013, President Obama noted: “If we are going to electrify Africa, we’ve got to do it with more speed.” Power Africa is attempting just that, in part by providing early-stage grants to the US-Africa Clean Energy Finance Initiative (ACEF) that catalyse and accelerate the development of renewable energy projects. Our partner Gigawatt Global used an ACEF grant to bring East Africa’s first utility-scale, grid-connected solar field online in record time; just 12 months after the signing of a power purchase agreement, electricity began to flow to upwards of 15,000 homes in Rwanda.
We work to accelerate energy development by partnering with major private-sector players – many of whom have long been interested in scaling up their activities in sub-Saharan Africa, but have lacked the tools and confidence to do so. Take, for example, Vestas, which recently became one of Power Africa’s partners. The Danish multinational wind turbine manufacturer is no stranger to work in Africa, with several of its wind farms already operating across the continent. Vestas also made a previous commitment to provide turbines for the 310MW Lake Turkana wind project in Kenya, supported by Power Africa, which could be the largest wind power plant project in sub-Saharan Africa upon its completion. But now, as a full private-sector partner, Vestas will utilise Power Africa’s wide array of resources to expand its portfolio, and aims to reach one gigawatt of installed capacity in Africa by 2016.
Beyond the Grid
Large energy projects alone will not be sufficient to achieve near universal electricity access in sub-Saharan Africa. Off-grid and small-scale energy systems must also be part of the solution. With the establishment of our Beyond the Grid sub-initiative, Power Africa is unlocking power-sector investment and growth in rural and peri-urban areas where there is currently little or no electricity access.
But partnerships with a growing number of private-sector partners will not alone suffice to meet President Obama’s expanded Power Africa goals. We are also working with host country governments and coordinating with other key governments and multilateral institutions to engage in critical policy, regulatory and governance reform efforts. For example, the African Union Commission’s New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and Power Africa have signed a memorandum of understanding outlining a joint commitment to accelerate the implementation of the ‘Africa Power Vision’ – an African-led effort to prioritise and focus on the development of a few, transformative projects across sub-Saharan Africa to demonstrate that we can work together to move beyond making lists of priorities and instead take these priorities across the finish line.
We also are working with our partners to advance the work of the East, West and Southern African power pools, which will facilitate the critical power trading necessary to bring electricity prices down, while creating regional interdependence and stability.
Within the past year, Power Africa has enhanced its already strong relations with multilateral organisations and host country governments that share in our mission to attract and sustain private investment over the long term. Strong partnerships with organisations such as the World Bank Group and the African Development Bank have led to $5 billion and $3 billion financial commitments respectively to enhance coordinated planning and programming that will ensure that we build on each other’s efforts.
In the past year, our partnerships have grown to European governments, including the Government of Sweden, which has committed $1 billion to catalyse energy investments through grants for distribution and transmission projects, and loans and loan guarantees for small-scale and off-grid renewable projects.
Many of Power Africa’s core objectives dovetail with those of the United Nations’ Sustainable Energy for All (SE4All) initiative. SE4All and Power Africa have also signed a cooperation understanding aide memoire that is designed to address energy poverty issues in sub-Saharan Africa. As part of the nascent partnership, Power Africa and SE4All are focusing in part on providing increased energy access in off-grid communities, and Power Africa is working to support SE4All in implementing its financing plan so that more projects can come online and help increase access to electricity.
Under President Obama’s leadership, and thanks to the hard work and commitment of all of our partners, Power Africa has progressed from a US Government initiative into a unified effort and collective mission, leveraging resources and technical skills from around the world in order to increase electricity access throughout all of sub-Saharan Africa.