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Amy.Offord_111 Aug 13



The region has some major plans under way. Neil Ford profiles the energy landscape of East Africa.

It’s difficult to overplay the scale of East Africa’s power sector ambitions. Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda have some of the most ambitious generation expansion targets anywhere in the world, with hydro, coal, gas and renewable energy projects all scheduled for development.

Governments across the region are also promoting electrification, not just because of the social, environmental and economic benefits, but also on safety grounds. For example, the 80% of Ugandans without access to electricity in their homes rely on kerosene and biomass. The latter causes deforestation and the former is responsible for countless domestic fires.

The Kenyan government listed universal electrification as a priority in its Vision 2030 strategy to turn the country into a middle-income state by that year. According to the Ministry of Energy, the connection rate had already reached 75% by early 2019 – up from 23% a decade earlier – which seems to have encouraged the government to speed up the process. Under the 2018 Kenya National Electrification Strategy, Nairobi set a target of supplying every home with electricity by 2022.

Many of the households connected over the past decade have been relatively easy to reach, along the more densely populated belt from Mombasa in the east to Lake Victoria in the west, via Nairobi. In addition to a distribution sector programme, this has been achieved by a huge investment in new generation projects. Kenya has an installed generating capacity of 2.34GW, of which 1.63GW is owned by KenGen, and the state-owned company plans to add another 720MW by 2020. As we shall see later, the speed of this increase is creating problems of its own.

In addition to investment in on-grid transmission and distribution, Nairobi is banking on off -grid projects to reach 650,000 homes in rural areas. The World Bank is providing financial support for the Kenya Off -grid Solar Access Project, which aims to connect 1.3m people in the more sparsely populated north and northeast of the country, while the Kenya Electricity Modernisation Project hopes to supply electricity to 235,000 people.

A survey by off -grid solar association GOGLA found that 36% of house-holds that had recently installed an off -grid solar photovoltaic (PV) kit increased their income by more than $35 a month – a big increase in rural parts of sub-Saharan Africa. Charles Keter, Cabinet Secretary to the Ministry of Energy, said that although much had been achieved a new strategy was needed to bring “the entire country un-der electrification in an economically viable manner”.


The government of Tanzania introduced its own testing target in April: to increase installed national generating capacity from 1,602MW at present to 10,000MW by 2025 by developing projects across a wide range of technologies. Deputy Energy Minister Subira Mgalu said: “We need to have abundant and reliable power from an energy mix that includes hydropower, natural gas, solar and wind.”

Tanzania’s gas boom is already benefiting the power sector, as almost half of all installed capacity is gas-fi red, spread over nine projects. Hydro schemes dominate the rest of the generation mix, with 568MW. Until the development of the first gas-fired capacity in 2004, Tanzania relied on hydro schemes, but erratic rainfall has led to frequent power rationing and the government now seems determined to put gas at the heart of its power strategy. Proven natural gas reserves already stand at 57tr cubic feet, so even if a substantial liquefied natural gas plant is developed as planned in the south, there should be plenty of gas left to feed more domestic generation capacity.

East Africa’s largest country is starting from a lower base than Kenya, with an electrification rate of 32.7% at the end of 2018, but it still hopes to achieve universal electrification by 2030. The US Agency for International Development’s Power Africa initiative cites poor sector governance and the lack of cost-reflective tariff s as among the biggest problems in the Tanzanian power industry. There have been two main strands to Tanzania’s electrification programme: encouraging the development of natural gas reserves for domestic consumption and creating an attractive investment environment for off -grid solar PV providers.

In contrast, Uganda seems content to increase its reliance on hydroelectric power production. Kampala’s power-sector ambitions are even greater than those of Tanzania, with a goal of achieving 17GW installed capacity by 2028. Meanwhile, Ethiopia is focusing on dam construction, with hydro projects accounting for 3.74GW out of national installed capacity of 4.20GW, but this proportion is set to grow further over the next few years as a string of jumbo dam schemes are completed. This is a remarkable increase given that Ethiopian generating capacity stood at just 745MW in 2006. Wind accounts for another 337MW at present and thermal power plants just 126MW. About 40% of Ethiopians currently have access to electricity, ranging from 85% in urban areas down to 29% for rural households.


The East African state with per-haps the biggest off -grid aspirations is Rwanda. Kigali hopes to provide access to electricity for all households by 2024, with an incredible 48% supplied off -grid. Given the country’s small size and high population density of 519 people per sq km, it might be an ideal candidate for a comprehensive national grid. It will be interesting to see whether universal electrification is achieved, in the first incidence through the acquisition of low-capacity solar PV kits, followed by grid connection in the longer term.

In 2018, just 12% of rural Rwandans had access to electricity at home, rising to 72% in urban areas, so there is a huge amount of work to be done in a short time to achieve the 2024 goal, particularly as the country currently has an installed capacity of just 218MW, comprising 103 MW thermal, 98MW hydro and 12MW solar PV.

This article is an extract from the Africa Energy Yearbook 2019, a partnership between African Business and EnergyNet.

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