Over the years Africa has become known as the dark continent, largely because of the mystery surrounding this vast land mass. However, if one were to fly across the continent at night, the image is dramatically different than that of a developed area as the continent is awash in darkness due to the absence of electricity and lighting. Just as Africa has begun to bridge the ‘digital divide’ through use of wireless communication technologies, it may soon be able to power up through smaller-scale decentralized energy projects that do not require miles and miles of poles and wires.

Last June, US president Barack Obama announced his ‘Power Africa’ initiative with the goal to double access to power in sub-Saharan Africa. More than two-thirds of the population of sub-Saharan Africa is without electricity, and more than 85% of those living in rural areas lack access. According to the White House, Power Africa will build on Africa’s enormous power potential, including new discoveries of vast reserves of oil and gas, and the potential to develop clean geothermal, hydropower, wind and solar energy. It will help countries develop newly-discovered resources responsibly, build out power generation and transmission, and expand the reach of mini-grid and off-grid solutions.

Having recently returned from a meeting of the Africa Gas Association, it is apparent that the dash to gas is not confined to North America, but is spreading rapidly throughout Africa, including the eastern regions. As this natural gas production advances it will create localised opportunities for power generation that is clean, affordable and efficient. While some of this new natural gas production may be destined for export markets, as a localised gas distribution network develops it will allow for new uses and markets to progress as well.

WADE is excited about the prospect for decentralized power in Africa and about the potential for the coupling of natural gas with power generation technology to create economic opportunities, a cleaner environment, improved access to healthcare, expanded educational experiences, and an overall improvement in the quality of life.

To this end, WADE is planning to follow up the meeting with the Africa Gas Association with a meeting in Cape Town on 19 March in conjunction with POWER-GEN Africa (www.powergenafrica.com). The potential is as large as the continent and WADE hopes to be a fundamental player in Africa’s decentralized energy future. We hope to see you in Cape Town or elsewhere under the shining lights that will illuminate the previously ‘dark continent’.

David Sweet   David Sweet
Executive Director, WADE
dsweet@localpower.org