Published: April 2013

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA) reference scenario, Africa’s final electricity consumption is expected to double between 2007 and 2030 from 505 to 1012 TWh (IEA 2009). Over the same time period, the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General’s Advisory Group on Energy and Climate Change (AGECC) has proposed that the UN System and Member States commit to ensuring universal access to reliable, affordable and sustainable modern energy services by 2030 (AGECC 2010). To meet this goal, massive electricity infrastructure development will be required in the short- and medium-term.

The IEA (2010) estimates that achieving universal access to electricity by 2030 will require additional power-sector investment of USD 33 billion per annum on average, much of which is needed in sub-Saharan Africa. Efficiency improvements, demand management, optimal generation planning, improved grid operation and increased electricity trade across sub-Saharan African countries will be essential for minimizing the volume of investments needed (UN-Energy Africa 2008). We propose that specific elements of current and emerging Smart Grid concepts, systems and technologies may make an important contribution to improving equitable and just access to electricity services in sub-Saharan Africa (Bazilian, Sagar, et al. 2010).

This paper first briefly describes the electricity sector in sub-Saharan Africa, including regional initiatives, power pools and regulatory authorities (Section1). Section 2 reviews current Smart Grid concepts, technologies and related costs and benefits. Section 3 places the Smart Grids concept in the context of sub-Saharan African, shifting the focus towards the facilitation of just access. It illustrates potential opportunities for leapfrogging elements of traditional power systems, the role of energy planning, and effects on regulation and market design. Finally, Section 4 offers thoughts on how to apply specific concepts in the short-term, and suggests areas for international cooperation to complement ongoing and planned regional and national initiatives in sub-Saharan Africa. This paper represents only an initial foundation for policy design and further, more detailed research.


  • Morgan Bazilian, United Nations Industrial Development Organization, Vienna, Austria
  • V. S. K. Murthy Balijepalli, Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, India
  • Abeeku Brew-Hammond, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, Ghana
  • Deepak Divan, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, USA
  • David Elzinga, International Energy Agency, Paris, France
  • Dolf Gielen, International Renewable Energy Agency, Abu Dhabi, UAE
  • Mark Howells,KTH, Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden
  • Lawrence Jones, ALSTOM Grid, Washington DC, USA
  • Andrew Keane,University College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland
  • Goran Strbac, Imperial College London, London, UK
  • Manuel Welsch, United Nations Industrial Development Organization, Vienna, Austria
  • Kandeh Yumkella, United Nations Industrial Development Organization, Vienna, Austria