New study: people in Africa want the grid

A new study from a respected Washington think tank has found that off-grid electricity is failing to meet Africa’s energy needs.

Off-grid systems like rooftop solar panels are often touted by Western environmentalists as the solution to Africa’s chronic power deficit. But few in the West ever ask Africans themselves what they think.

The new study, from the Center for Global Development, does exactly that. It examined public attitudes to energy access in twelve African countries: Benin, DR Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Uganda, and Zambia. Key findings include:

  • In all countries surveyed, the majority of off-grid customers want access to grid.
  • Off-grid power is inadequate for most respondents’ energy needs. A significant proportion reported that their off-grid system did not fulfil any of their power needs.
  • People want a grid connection so they can power energy-intensive appliances such as fridges, hot plates, irons and TVs.
  • People on the grid still value access to off-grid systems, but as back-up when the grid goes down rather than a primary energy source.

“Making electricity more accessible, reliable and responsive to African demand across the continent should be a priority, said Dr Todd Moss, an author of the report and a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development.

“Off-grid customers may appreciate the lights and basic appliances like phone chargers that off-grid systems can power, but want to move up the energy ladder toward higher power appliances enabled by a grid connection.”

Reliable electricity is essential to improve people’s living standards and attract industry to these countries. But as this study shows, there are no easy shortcuts when it comes to delivering it.