Off-grid power development in Africa needs support to prevent at least 30 million people from losing electricity access after disruptions related to the global pandemic caused many distributors to struggle to remain operational, according to a new report.
Solar technology and other off-grid solutions have brought power to about 60 million people over the last decade, but restrictions designed to mitigate the spread of Covid-19 slowed providers down, causing funding shortages and delays, researchers at the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment at the University of Oxford wrote in a policy brief.
Africa, which has a population of 1.3 billion people, has an electricity access rate of just over 40%, the lowest in the world, according to the African Development Bank.
To meet a United Nations goal of universal access by 2030, further progress is needed not only in grid link-ups, but in off-grid systems using sources such as solar energy. An estimated $350 billion of investment will be required to accomplish that target.
Some lockdown measures in East Africa were particularly severe and initially didn’t consider businesses in the off-grid industry essential services, according to the study. That caused some to close and held up deliveries, the researchers found, citing interviews with participants in the sector. Systems such as mini-grids are also relied upon to support health care and agriculture in areas where electricity connections are absent or unreliable.
The brief recommends developing local supply chains and strengthening regional manufacturing to once again increase electricity access in Africa. Reducing the cost of mobile money platforms for low-income and rural households may also help as companies struggle to reduce their budgets, the researchers said.