Over the years, you’ve likely heard plenty of discussion of the approximately 860 million people who lack basic access to electricity, including 600 million in sub-Saharan Africa. This energy poverty has been a major barrier to economic development across the region, and continues to cause a significant drag on both social and health outcomes. Addressing the energy access challenge at the household level has therefore justifiably been a core focus of much of the climate finance flowing into sub-Saharan Africa over the last decade. For a handful of countries in sub-Saharan Africa (e.g. Ethiopia, Kenya, Ghana, Rwanda and Senegal), these efforts have led to material improvements in access to electricity, whereas progress elsewhere on the continent has remained frustratingly slow.
But it is not just individuals who are energy poor. Businesses across the region often suffer from expensive, unreliable and polluting power supplies – and particularly in rural areas, they may not have any energy access at all. The causes of this power inadequacy are structural and complex, and there is extensive discussion in academia and amongst energy sector professionals of how best to address it. But when viewing this issue from both a human development and climate change perspective, there are two imperatives that potential solutions should take into account: First, it’s important that significant, high-quality additional energy is made available to businesses as an enabler of industrialisation and economic growth. And second, it’s essential that these businesses’ emissions must fall, rather than rise, if we are to stand any chance of limiting average global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius, as called for in the Paris Agreement.