Africa needs a new deal on energy, and now it has one.

US President Roosevelt’s post-Depression New Deal of the 1930s focused on ‘Relief, Recovery and Reform’.

For Africa’s New Deal on Energy, in the spotlight at the World Economic Forum in Davos this week, the focus is on Power, Potential and Partnership.

‘Power’ – because the New Deal aims to light up and power Africa by 2025. Energy is the lifeblood of any society. It is the passport to economic transformation, and it is one of the foundations for any society in the provision of education and health.

And yet as we begin 2016 over 645 million Africans – some two-thirds of the people on the continent – have no access to energy.

Africans are tired of being in the dark: children suffer, because 90% of the continent’s primary schools have no electricity.

Women suffer: 600,000 people, largely women, die each year from cooking with unclean energy like wood or baked earth. Hospitals and their patients suffer when equipment simply doesn’t work.

Small and even large businesses suffer – Africa loses an estimated 4% of its annual GDP for the lack of energy. The unavailability of energy in Africa is unacceptable, and so is its cost. A woman living in a village in northern Nigeria spends around 60 to 80 times per unit more for her energy than a resident of New York City or London.

‘Potential’ – because Africa is aching to release its full economic potential, and to turn strong but uneven economic growth into deep-rooted and universally shared economic transformation. Energy is the secret to that.

With a strong and secure energy supply we can unleash the skills of a young and dynamic population. We can continue the process of turning agriculture into agro-industry, and partial diversification into full-scale industrialisation. The raw materials that will provide our energy await us – unused or as yet untapped.

As well as 300 gigawatts of coal potential and 400 gigawatts of gas, the continent is waiting to get its hands on 10 terawatts of solar energy potential, 350 gigawatts of hydroelectric, 110 gigawatts of wind, and a further 15 gigawatts of geothermal.

‘Partnership’ – because no country, no organization, no initiative can do it alone. The Africa Progress Panel has already done the research to show that Africa can power itself – if it and others work together. There are already key players in the field, like the Africa Renewable Energy Initiative supported by the G7, the UN’s Sustainable Energy for All Initiative, and the US Power Africa Program.

The private sector is a source of leadership as well as funding, for instance through the Africa Energy Leaders Group. The task is to point them all in the same direction. So the New Deal is an African-led initiative to mobilize political will and financial support to solve Africa’s energy challenges.

What will it do?

It has four – huge – targets. To increase on-grid generation by adding 160 GW of new capacity by 2025, nearly doubling what we have today. To increase on-grid transmission and grid connections that will create 130 million new connections by 2025, 160 per cent more than today.

To increase off-grid generation to add 75 million connections by 2025, nearly 20 times what we have today-to increase access to clean cooking energy for around 130 million households.

First and foremost, it will raise money, from Africa and beyond, and from the public and the private sectors. We need a total of $60-90 billion a year, compared with the $22 billion invested in the sector in 2014.

This money will come from a variety of sources. First, we will work with other multi-lateral and bilateral financial institutions to see if we can get investment into the power sector to triple on an annual basis. Second, governments themselves need to play a role. If Africa were to increase its annual spending on energy from 0.4% of GDP to 3.4%, this would solve the problem completely. This could also be done by putting an end to subsidies for products such as kerosene and diesel.

Finally, the private sector is very willing to play a significant role. This will require changes in regulation to make the sector more attractive for private capital, but we have seen many examples of significant capital flow where regulations are appropriately structured.

The New Deal is also practical: it will set up the right energy policy environment: laws, regulation, governance; it will build the capacity of national energy utility companies; it will dramatically increase the number of bankable energy projects and the funding pool to deliver them; it will roll out waves of country-wide energy ‘turnarounds’. It will be energy resource neutral, using renewables and non-renewables alike, and technology neutral.

The African Development Bank will manage the New Deal, as well as investing US $12 billion in energy funding over the next five years, attracting up to four times as much from other financiers in the process.

‘I pledge you, I pledge myself to a New Deal for the American people’, said FDR in July 1932. The pledges – financial and political – are being made again on a different continent, over 80 years later. Meeting Africa’s energy challenge is both a moral and an economic imperative.

‘A flick of a switch’ can’t be delivered in an instant, but a flick of a switch is what it will take.

By Akinwumi Adesina
President, African Development Bank Group

Photo credit: Mitre