From an energy perspective, over the past decade sub-Saharan Africa has been witnessing the most radical change in its history, with energy access steadily and universal energy access being an achievable objective for the first time. Thanks to its renewable-energy potential and a mix of technological, regulatory and financial factors, in the coming years Sub-Saharan Africa could leapfrog from a situation of low or no availability of energy to a sustainable and universally accessible supply, skipping the intermediate steps characterised by an unsustainable use of energy commodities and standing up as one of the active players in the global energy transition. This will require ad hoc incentive schemes, appropriate regulatory frameworks and greater participation of private actors and local businesses, as well as counteracting the unpredictable effects of the COVID-19 pandemic to avoid losing the momentum Africa has generated.

To guarantee the continuation of the historical shift in energy access in Africa, understanding the factors at play in energy leapfrogging is pivotal. We divided them into four pillars: 1) From fossil fuels to RES, 2) From centralized to distributed generation, 3) From a classical electricity market to a novel business approach, 4) From analogic to digitalised energy systems.


for the first time since colonial independence energy access in the region increased

“3 Ds” of energy

decarbonisation, decentralisation, digitalisation reflect the 4 pillars

From fossil fuels to RES

Despite Africa’s significant resource endowment, development based on fossils fuels and the widespread use of traditional biomass is incompatible with environmental targets. However, renewable potential is high and the absence of an already existing traditional system underscores the possibility of directly implementing a system based on electricity generation from RES. It is an achievable target, yet the path is long: aside from increasing generation and distribution, this process will also require a greater role for electricity in all sectors, from domestic consumption to the industry and even transports, in a continent where 600 million people still lack any kind of access.

electricity share of Africa’s total final energy consumption
African share of world’s total crude oil reserves
of the African population is reached by electricity
is the most exploited RES in Africa today
660,000 (TWh/y)
the estimated electricity production from theoretical PV potential

From centralised to distributed generation

A development pathway strongly based on electrification requires the identification of a suitable architecture. Decentralisation will be key to reaching universal energy access considering the dispersion of the African population and that rural areas are those with lower electricity access. A flexible system coupling the existing grid and decentralized solutions could enable better exploitation of renewables potential and more rapid achievement of sustainable development targets. The penetration of mini-grids in the continent is supported by decreasing technological costs and new regulations that incentivize the participation of private investors. However, careful coordination is needed for the necessary expansions of the grid to avoid generating unsustainable competition against mini-grids and reducing their appeal for investors.

already-installed mini-grids in the continent
5 million
people in sub-Saharan Africa were provided access to electricity by off-grid systems in 2018
of population with access to electricity in rural areas in sub-Saharan African
of population living in rural areas in sub-Saharan Africa
of the total new capacity investments by 2040 in Sub-Saharan Africa are mini-grids and off-grid stand-alone solutions

From classical market to a novel business approach

A new energy framework based on decentralised power generation from renewables, characterised by a general limited predictability, requires flexibility, smart operations, and digitalisation, opening new opportunities for novel technologies and innovative business models. A structural reform of energy markets and shifting to innovative market mechanisms represents its primary enabling factor. Beside stimulating the essential financial investments for energy leapfrogging, a proper market reform shall ensure private-sector participation to the whole energy value chain, from generation to transmission and distribution. Innovative energy business models are already in place across Sub-Saharan Africa, putting market competition and decentralisation at their core.

by 2040
investments in the power sector need to double to achieve SDG 7 “affordable and clean energy”
1 large monopolist
is responsible for the entire electricity chain in most SSA countries
only 6 countries
in sub-Saharan Africa have vertically unbundled power structures with private-sector participation

From “analogic” to digitalised systems

Digitalisation and ICT developments are key for the transition towards renewables-based, decentralised energy-systems. Across the continent, the rapid spread of mobile telecommunications has proven to be the primary step in this direction: they can efficiently support the transition especially in rural areas covered by mobile signal but not reached by electricity infrastructures. This can enable innovative energy demand and supply management, as well as digital remote monitoring of energy devices and mobile-based payment systems, such as the Pay-as-you-go (PAYG) approach – a system which is rapidly expanding and granting access particularly to the most fragile strata of the African population.

almost all countries
on the continent have a share of mobile ownership higher than the electrification rate
in Burkina Faso
14% electricity access against more than 93% mobile ownership
average value in Africa in 2018 for transmission and distribution losses (that digitalisation can improve)