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Africa Energy Insight: Sub-Saharan Africa’s Power Potential Not Yet Maximized

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The Nile Basin/EAPP region requires 23 GW of new energy capacity to keep up with the current power demand growing at 7% annually. (Photo: Nathan Sudds)
The Nile Basin/EAPP region requires 23 GW of new energy capacity to keep up with the current power demand growing at 7% annually. (Photo: Nathan Sudds)


  • East African Power Pool (EAPP) master plan exploits, pools power resources for transfer from surplus to deficit areas
  • Project delayed due to lack of harmonization, policy framework and funding; set for revival in a 3-phase development plan
  • EAPP promotes practical and replicable energy model that may well be Africa’s solution to perennial power woes and high energy costs

Eastern African countries created a master plan to resolve the region’s persistent power woes back in 2005, and the East African Power Pool (EAPP) is working to harness and exploit the unique energy resources of the region. Notably, the EAPP aims to create a power trading platform to transfer power from surplus to deficit areas in the region.

The plan envisages to harness the hydropower potential of Ethiopia, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo; the geothermal potential of Kenya, Ethiopia and Tanzania; coal in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania; and natural gas in Rwanda and Tanzania.

Current Status

Six years later, little has been achieved in making the EAPP initiative a reality, mainly due to lack of a policy framework, harmonized approach and financial resources.

Under the EAPP protocol, power would be transferred across borders through high-voltage transmission lines from surplus to deficit areas in a closed-circuit system. This would not only increase power access in the region but also lower costs, which are some of the highest in Africa.

The EAPP's mission was to uncover the Congo river’s enormous hydropower potential through the planned Inga Dam complex. If succesful, the Congo project could generate up to 44 GW of power, which would be sufficient to power the entire African continent with 40% of its energy needs. It would also be the world’s biggest hydro-electric power project.

Funding has been the biggest obstacle to the implementation of the EAPP project. Officials of the East African Community are, however, reaching out to the private sector, independent power producers and external donors to help finance and get the project off the ground.

Already, the African Development Bank (AfDB), the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa organization (COMESA), the French Development Agency (AFD) and the World Bank have been successfully roped in as project financiers.

Infrastructure Expansion Costs

An Africa Infrastructure Country Diagnostics (AICD) report filed earlier this year documented that the Nile Basin/EAPP region requires 23 GW of new energy capacity to keep up with the current power demand, growing at 7% annually. According to the AICD report, expanding the Nile Basin power generation system would cost $29 billion.

Transmission, connection and distribution costs are expected to reach $11 billion, with grid investment and upgrading to hit $7.5 billion. New customer connections will require up to $3 billion, with another $3.3 billion to refurb the existing grid network.

The total cost of implementing the Nile Basin/EAPP project therefore amounts to $54 billion, or $5.4 billion every year for 10 years.

Phased Project Implementation

Implementation of the EAPP project is planned to roll out in 3 phases. The first phase involves the Ethiopia-Kenya 500 Kilovolt (KV) line expected to cost $800 million. Construction is scheduled for next year and completion in 2015.

The second phase is the Zambia-Tanzania-Kenya (ZTK) line curently undergoing feasibility studies by Canadian energy firm, RSW Inc. The ZTK 400 KV line is a four-year project scheduled for completion in 2015 at a cost of also $800 million.

Third in phase is the Kenya-Uganda transmission line, which will be a double circuit 220 KV line slated for construction in 2012. The Africa Development Bank will finance its development to the tune of $60 million.

Other transmission lines in the construction pipeline include a 220 KV line from Uganda to Rwanda and a 220 KV line from Rwanda to Burundi.

Power Pooling Benefits

By pooling and trading power resources, Eastern African countries will be able to resolve their perennial power problems and ensure steady, reliable and affordable power supply in the region and indeed the greater African continent by exporting surplus power.

According to the AICD report, regional power trade will not only plug the high energy deficit in the Eastern Africa region but also save regional economies up to $1 billion in annual spending on fossil fuels.

Power pooling will also reduce carbon emissions by close to 4 million tons annually as member countries reduce reliance on diesel-powered generators. This will help mitigate the effects of climate change in the region. Intra-regional power trade will boost economic activity and bolster political goodwill among member countries.

If successfully implemented, the EAPP project offers a practical and effective energy model that can be replicated across Africa to boost power production and lower high energy costs.

Key Statistics – Africa Power Production Statistics

  • Well over 500 million Sub-Saharan Africans (67%) have no access to regular electricity. (source: OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID))
  • Africa’s power output in relation to the world’s is 7%-9%, yet it is a net energy-resource exporter. (source: OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID))
  • Some 45% of Sub Sahara Africa’s power output is from hydropower sources, yet less than 8% of the continent’s hydropower potential has been exploited. (source: African Development Bank)
  • Africa possesses a rich energy mix and potential in hydro, wind, solar, geothermal and biomass energy sources yet exploitation of these is less than 10% of full potential. (source: African Development Bank)
  • Only 1 in 4 Africans has regular access to power. (source: African Development Bank)
  • Less than 10% of Sub Sahara Africa’s rural population has access to modern energy services. (source: African Development Bank)
  • The Great Rift Valley in Eastern Africa possesses a geothermal potential of 7,000 MW, yet less than 200 MW have been exploited. (source: African Development Bank)
  • Biomass is the major source of energy in Sub-Sahara Africa, accounting for 70% to 90% of the continent’s energy supply. (source: African Development Bank)
  • Africa’s installed generating capacity is 117 GW, yet the ideal capacity for its more than 1 billion people is 335 GW. This is projected to grow to 584 GW by 2030 and 984 GW by 2050. (source: African Energy Commission (AFREC))
  • The World Bank estimates that Africa needs to add 7,000 MW of power annually to its grid over the next 20 years to achieve universal power access at a cost of $600 billion. (source: African Energy Commission (AFREC))

By Patrick West for
Patrick West is a print and internet journalist who covers news and trends in business, technology, economy and finance.

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