Frequent power outages have forced businesses in sub-Saharan Africa to install backup diesel generators with a total capacity of 45,000MW as of 2021—which is thrice the installed electricity capacity of the entire countries in Eastern Africa.

Installing, operating and maintaining the generators have loaded firms with additional operating costs, running into millions of dollars per year, a new study shows.

“In sub-Saharan Africa alone, such capacity (backup diesel generators) amounted to 45 GW (45,000MW) in 2021, more than all the renewables‐based generating capacity in the region,” says the International Energy Agency (IEA) in its Africa Energy Outlook 2022 report.

“Of this, 13 GW is in Nigeria, where 25 terawatt‐hours (TWh) or 40% of the total electricity is auto‐generated by industrial and commercial firms and households using oil products.”

Africa’s recurrent outages, planned and unplanned, are largely due to rickety, poorly maintained networks.

This has encouraged end‐users, especially large commercial and industrial businesses and some homes, to generate their own power including solar. It has also led to a vicious circle of high costs, lower revenues, low cost recovery, underinvestment, worsening reliability and higher losses.

It’s not just large businesses that find it necessary to have generators on standby; smaller enterprises need them too.

“I’m forced to switch on my generator at least four times every month as a result of blackouts. Of course some months are better off, others not so much, especially whenever it rains,” said John Ndegwa, an executive barbershop operator in Thika, a commercial town in Kenya.

The extension of electricity transmission and distribution networks, which had slowed since mid‐decade to 2019, have received little investment since the start of Covid-19, according to IEA.

A large increase in network investment is needed to reduce technical as well as non‐technical electricity losses caused notably by cable and energy theft, vandalism and, in some cases, destruction brought about by armed conflict, the report says.

Constrained grid capacity prevents the few countries with oversupply, such as Ghana and Kenya, to export or supply domestic centres of demand. In general, Africa lacks regional interconnections, despite efforts to reinforce the five existing African power pools and the vision of a single African electricity market.

Meanwhile, the report says that solar installations are gaining momentum.

“In sub‐ Saharan Africa (excluding South Africa), 13 countries now have more than 50 megawatts of installed capacity, a level reached five years ago by only Namibia and Senegal.”