As elsewhere in the world, COVID-19 continues to ravage Africa, causing thousands of deaths and an unprecedented health crisis that is damaging to every aspect of the social and economic lives of millions of people.
The energy sector is among the hardest hit, with far-reaching consequences for access to electricity for millions of Africans. Drawing on key COVID-19-related energy tracker reports and recent studies, this Insight Paper argues for stimulus packages that enhance universal access to sustainable electricity. Policy responses always need to be context – based, as different African countries and regions face different challenges and opportunities. That said, we argue here that the dominant paradigm of energy development in Africa, based on capital – intensive investment in generation projects with long-distance transmission systems, may be particularly vulnerable to crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic. We suggest therefore that a more diversified and resilient energy system should be mainstreamed in Africa in the post-COVID era. We note that there will be tremendous financial, political, and ideological obstacles to such a paradigm shift taking place, which will require active engagement and coordination among governments, donors, and businesses to address.
Focusing on the electricity sector, in this paper we briefly discuss the status of the development of the electricity sector in Africa before the crisis, how that development pathway has been interrupted by the pandemic, and what the potential opportunities are, particularly for renewable energy systems. We conclude the paper with concrete policy suggestions that respond to both the challenges and opportunities.