Energy poverty, in particular, the lack of access to electricity, is a chronic impediment to sustainable development in sub-Saharan Africa, affecting over one billion people.
Recently, electrification efforts have bifurcated into two pathways: grid extension/enhancement and off‑grid. Expanding and enhancing the existing national grid is the de facto approach, but is struggling to keep up with growing populations and demand in many countries.
Off-grid solutions such as solar home systems and mini-grids are seen as a way to ‘leap frog’ the national grid, but face distribution, affordability, and regulatory challenges. This article explores each electrification pathway through the lens of a traditional power system planner.
This perspective shows that implicit planning assumptions about cost recovery, procurement, reliability requirements, economic benefit, what entities are involved, and the role of renewable energy require re‑visiting and re-invention in the sub‑Saharan African context.