Future of Powering Africa

Drew Holland
May 13, 2018

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2017

Fig. 1: Solar Map of Africa. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Currently, Sub-Saharan Africa holds a 48% share of the worlds population without electricity and just a 13% share of the global population as a whole. There are roughly 600 million people in the region without access to electricity. Cameroon, The Ivory Coast, Gabon, Ghana, Namibia, Senegal, and South Africa have electricity rates over 50% while the rest of the region has just 20% electricity access rate. [1,2]

Looking forward, the electrification of Sub-Saharan Africa will be a will be a challenging project. However, it is projected that electrification levels will reach 70 or 80% by 2040. Africa also has an extraordinarily large power- concentration capacity. Largely due to Solar, there is an impressive 10 terawatts of potential energy capacity. [1]

The project to electrify Sub-Saharan Africa will be completed using multiple different energy sources. After 2020 gas will account for about 40% of electric power. Solar energy will also be used increasingly and is projected to produce about 8% of electric power by 2040. Other energy sources like geothermal, wind, and hydropower will be used increasingly which will in turn decrease the need for coal. Solar, geothermal, wind, and hydropower are projected to combine for more than 25% of electric power in Sub-Saharan Africa by 2040. [1]

Today, more than 1.5 million households in Sub-Saharan Africa use solar home systems. [3] Efforts are also being made to make economic use of the massive solar energy potential in Sub-Saharan Africa. Western Entrepreneurs see it as an attractive way to make a profit and reach a large market. The African Solar sector saw more than two hundred million dollars in funding just from venture capital in 2016. [3] The solar potential for Africa can be seen in Fig. 1.

Over the next 20 plus years there will be a wide effort to electrify Sub-Saharan Africa. With the massive power- generation capacity and the interest from western entrepreneurs, Solar Power will likely play a key role in the process.

© Drew Holland. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] A. Castellano et al., "Powering Africa," McKinsey and Company, 2015.

[2] I. Abate, "Off-Grid Electricity in Africa," Physics 240, Stanford University, Fall 2016.

[3] B. Mckibben, "The Race to Solar-Power Africa," The New Yorker, 26 Jun 17.