Working Paper

State of Knowledge Paper;

China’s Role for Africa’s Energy Transition: a Crucial Review

Published on 1 January 2020

Many countries in the sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) region face multiple challenges in the transition to a modern and sustainable energy system. At the outset, there is a severe shortage of energy supply after a decade of fast-growing economic activity in many SSA countries. Currently over 55% of the population, or 635 million people, still lack access to electricity (International Energy Agency (IEA), 2016).

In the past decade, per capita electricity consumption in SSA actually decreased from 520 kwh to 484 kwh, leading to a widening gap with both developed and other developing countries (World Bank database, 2019). Even within the areas that do have energy supply, the quality of the service is often low and unreliable, with frequent power cuts that are crippling industrial and service sectors. According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), the quality of the electricity system in most SSA countries ranked below 100th in the world (Schwab and WEF, 2019).

Although SSA is not a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions, the widespread use of biomass such as straw, wood, and animal waste for cooking and heating, and diesel engines for agricultural energy use, has caused various mainly local environmental and health concerns. Only 15% of the population have access to clean cooking facilities and technologies, and the reliance on biomass has exacerbated deforestation and desertification problems (Schlag and Zuzarte, 2008). In addition, the indoor air pollution caused by these activities claims millions of lives each year (World Health Organization, 2018).

As a result, energy transition in SSA means promoting and managing urgent and multidimensional transformations of energy access, reliability, and sustainability almost simultaneously, which impose tremendous political, financial, and technological challenges that go beyond the capabilities of many SSA countries.

Cite this publication

Shen. W. (2020) China's Role for Africa's Energy Transition: a Crucial Review, State of Knowledge Paper, Energy and Economic Growth, Oxford Policy Management


Wei Shen

Research Fellow

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published by
Oxford Policy Management
Shen, Wei


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