Powering Africa

How Captive Generation Can Electrify the Continent

Cape Town's Table Mountain, lit with red lights to mark World AIDS Day, December 2010.  Mike Hutchings / Reuters

Sub-Saharan Africa is living through a crisis in power supply. Thanks to decades of underinvestment in, and mismanagement of, electricity infrastructure, the region’s power grids are underpowered and dysfunctional. Sub-Saharan Africa today consumes 30 percent less electricity than South Korea, despite having 20 times its population, and on March 31 of this year, the entire country of Nigeria—population 180 million—generated no electricity for two hours. Even where electricity is available, it may be of low quality, which can be just as damaging. The cost of such dysfunction can be high: a 2014 report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimated that businesses in sub-Saharan Africa lost nearly five percent of their annual sales owing to power outages. No wonder unreliable power supply has been identified by business leaders as the single most pressing obstacle to the region’s growth, ahead of corruption, red tape, and access to capital.

Yet despite its energy

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