• Africa experiences power shortages every so often, and these incidents are blamed on various reasons including heavy rains that disrupt power supply in some countries in the continent.

    Most recently, Kenya experienced a national blackout that brought East Africa’s largest economy to a standstill for more than four hours, leaving businesses and residents at the mercy of expensive diesel generators.

    According to Kenya’s largest power producer, Kenya Electricity Generating Company (KenGen), the blackout was caused by a rogue monkey. The wandering primate climbed and fell onto a transformer at a power station, tripping it.

    Consequently, machines at the power station tripped due to overload, leading to a loss of more than 180MW, which triggered a national power blackout, KenGen said in a press statement.

    The monkey incident, brings to light one of the major reasons for the slow growth of businesses in Kenya and Africa at large.

    Electricity in Africa is a chronic challenge that needs to be addressed urgently in order to grow the continent’s economy faster. Powering Africa would have a ripple effect on industries, expand businesses, leading to the creation of more jobs for the African youth.

    Although Africa is in the process of transitioning from commodities producer to a manufacturing hub, inadequate power grids pose a challenge making it more difficult for the continent to industrialize.

    In a bid to address this issue once and for all, a bill was tabled for debate in parliament in April. The bill which was passed by parliament requires that the Kenya Power compensates its customers for any losses due to blackouts exceeding three hours, without a prior (24 hours) notification of such an outage by the company. In the same meeting, a power outage struck while parliamentarians debated on the bill.

    The problem of power outages in Africa cannot be generalized as every country has its own set of varying challenges. While in one country access to the grid, is the challenge, in another, being connected is quite the big issue. In yet another country, being connected is not a guarantee of reliable electricity.

    Take for example Nigeria whose citizens have an access rate of 90 percent and a connection rate of 96 percent but on the flip side, there is only 18 percent of reliable power supply. In Tanzania, despite a low connection to the grid (23 percent of the population), those who are connected enjoy a high 54 percent of reliable power supply. This disparity explains that even though the continent shares in the same problem, there cannot be a single remedy to the continental problem.

    It is due to such challenges that people are resorting to alternative power solutions like solar energy. M-Kopa is one entity that is providing reliable and affordable power solutions to homes in East Africa. Headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya, M-Kopa plans to provide power to a million homes on the continent by 2017.

    Even as Kenyans struggle with the constant power shortages, there are plans to exploit nuclear energy to boost electricity.

    In the course of last month, the east African nation announced that it is in the process of constructing a nuclear plant, that would subsequently help it address its power challenges.

    As a region, Sub-Saharan Africa is set to benefit from renewable energy projects as there is more than $25 billion investment towards it. Moreover, African Union is ready to invest up to $20 billion to develop renewable energy in the continent.


    Image credit: Reuters/Akintunde Akinleye