Africa’s Hard Black Gold

LAGOS - Few infrastructure services in the developed world may be as taken for granted as electric power. To consumers in industrialized countries, uninterrupted power supply is a given. Not so in much of Africa, which experiences some of the world’s greatest power deficits, and where only two in ten people have access to electricity.

According to the International Monetary Fund’s most recent Regional Economic Outlook for Sub-Saharan Africa, in 2007 alone, nearly two-thirds of the countries in the region experienced an acute energy crisis marked by frequent and extended electricity outages.

There is no shortage of hydropower plants for electricity generation in Africa. However, many of these plants are unable to keep up with rapid population growth and attendant increases in demand. Furthermore, they are prone to frequent drought, which reduces their output significantly, leaving many as little more than decorative infrastructure landmarks. Increasingly burgeoning populations in countries like Nigeria and Ghana imply a greater extraction of water resources for power generation. Rapid expansion of agricultural activity is requiring more and more water all across the continent.

Other resources like fuel oil, diesel, light crude, solar, and gas are also available as means of electricity generation, but their costs are all quite prohibitive.