An initiative driven by US president Barack Obama aimed at helping to power sub-Saharan Africa is making slower progress than envisaged.

FT reports that the Power Africa programme, launched in 2013, is supposed to add 30,000 MW of electricity by 2030, but just 374 MW has been added since its inception.
Barack Obama and Africa model
The target capacity is meant to eventually equal nearly a third of sub-Saharan Africa’s existing generating capacity, and is backed by $31bn in private sector commitments, but its supporters are urging patience in overcoming early slow progress.

The 374 MW built comes from six sizeable power projects according to the US Agency for International Development, co-ordinator of the multiple government agencies and companies involved in Power Africa.

Other large schemes are due to come online soon and the programme is backing several ventures providing smaller household solar panel systems to more than 450,000 customers.

The slow rate of progress is creating concern for some companies participant in the programme.

Power Africa is a “well-intentioned effort with a lot of smart people,” John Rice, GE’s vice-chairman, recently told a conference. “But if you look today at the number of megawatts that are actually on the grid directly related to the Power Africa initiative, it is very little.”

Rice cited one example of difficulty in progressing initiatives – it had taken 16 months to get Ghana’s parliament to approve an agreement for an emergency power scheme.

“I don’t know how long it would take if it wasn’t an emergency,” he said.

Meanwhile other companies have pointed to government inexperience and corruption as past problems in developing power projects.

USAID says the total pipeline of projects that have either reached financial close or will do so shortly accounts for more than 5,600MW of capacity.

Power Africa has deployed a team of experts acting as “transaction advisers” to work with companies and governments to accelerate work on often complex power schemes that many countries have never attempted before.

African power schemes can typically take five to 10 years from inception to completion, experts say.