Energy efficiency is a win-win for Africa


This page in:


Here in Cancun, the discussions on energy efficiency made me reflect on the "big picture" about energy efficiency in Africa. For years this subject has been near and dear to my heart. As Director for Energy in the World Bank I saw how much there is to gain from solid energy efficiency plans in developing countries. I saw how increasing costs of energy can encourage serious action on efficiency. Now, as Director for Sustainable Development in Africa, I see how committed African countries are to improving energy efficiency and making smart use of demand-side management in their efforts to combat climate change.


This week I met with at least nine Ministers of Environment at the margins of the Cancun COP. Each one of them mentioned the importance of energy access but this was qualified with the fact that this energy must be clean and it must be used efficiently. For many of these governments, it is no longer enough to speak of clean energy in isolation. They prefer to think about it in the context of their integrated low carbon development agendas.


Given that 560 million people in sub-Saharan Africa do not have access to modern energy, African countries must expand power generation and access if they're going to reduce poverty. The trick is they will have to do it in climate-smart ways and this is where energy efficiency is an important win-win.


When we address energy efficiency we need to look at the demand side as well as the supply side . The discussion made me think about the Africa Infrastructure Country Diagnostic study conducted by my colleagues in the World Bank. They found that addressing Africa's power problems and implementing regional trade will require spending US$41 billion per year. But they also found that reforming power utilities to reduce inefficiencies would save US$3.3 billion a year. There's a lot of money to be saved through energy efficiency!


In Ethiopia, new compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs are saving rural households money and energy. Through a World Bank project, the Government of Ethiopia distributed five million CFL bulbs. After only half of the bulbs had been distributed they had already saved 80 megawatts of electricity. To build power plants that generate 80 megawatts of electricity costs about US$100 million. So, for a US$4 million investment in new light bulbs the Government saved US$100 million in energy costs. Sounds like a win-win to me.


And it's not just a win for the Government. Low-income households can reduce their electricity consumption by 55% through efficient lighting—and this means lower electricity bills. That's a win for African families too. But the Ethiopians didn't stop with the light bulbs. They've designed a conservation campaign, upgraded street lighting, negotiated with large power users, and distributed 2.5 million efficient household cook stoves. The new stoves use 40-60% less wood fuel which saves women and children precious time fetching wood, and of course saves trees. In Uganda, we distributed 800,000 CFLs and in Rwanda another 200,000. This is the kind of energy efficiency that is spreading across Africa and I'm proud to say we in the Bank are helping.


Climate change requires that we all look carefully at the "big picture" of energy efficiency and demand-side management. How can we reduce consumption, conserve energy, and provide power to more people for more sustainable economic development? I'd say Africa is on the move looking at the menu of solutions and adapting them to local needs.


I am certain that as these countries prepare their Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs), this issue will only get more prominence. The continent is not waiting for the global deal to be sealed, they are working on a parallel track to start actions on the ground, and energy efficiency in the context of low access is definitely a good strategy.



Jamal Saghir

Professor of Practice, Institute for the Study of International Development, McGill University

Igwe Chibunna Onyems
December 15, 2010

I strongly agree with your argument for energy efficiency, if a US$4 million investment in new light bulbs saved US$100 million in energy costs, then such gain should lead to constant or more power availability.
What are the mechanisms to sustain the program because the bulbs will not last forever. is there political will for the Government to ensure that there is continuity. The other question, is what happens at the end of the World bank project, will the bulbs be affordable and available, because there is a tendency to revert to the old system if the CFL's are either not available or affordable.
Are there fiscal measures or incentives to encourage the local manufacturing of the CFL, or will the countries depend on imports.
I can not wait to see Africa enjoy constant power supply, power outage is the biggest challenge for small and mid businesses in Nigeria despite our huge potential be it Hydro, natural gas or solar. We seem not to have grip of the solution because the Energy policy and politics are not allowing the ideas to survive.
kudos to Worldbank !!!!

Farrukh Mian
January 14, 2011

CFLs are indeed a quick-fix as they immediately free up kwhs that can be used by others in the society. However, there are other inefficiencies in the electrical systems of some of the poorest countries, especially in the sub-saharan Africa, which require a slightly longer term strategy. For example, most of the power stations are running at less than half their initial efficiency numbers and require major over-hauls. Similarly distribution system losses due to over-loaded transformers and low capacity cables are all in need of replacement. This can be the second stage of efficiency improvement. Then, in the third stage, renewable energy projects, especially the technologically proven solar and wind solutions, need to be introduced to these countries beside the more conventional combined cycle power generation plants.

These are three angles from which the menace of energy poverty in the LDCs should be attacked. It should not, however, mean that these approaches have to be followed in sequence but rather a start on all these fronts has to be made today if the race against time has to be won. The recently launched studies under the Program for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA) is a suitable platform for capturing this 3-pronged approach.

LED Bulbs
January 18, 2011

Although I find it encouraging that the government is purchasing CFL bulbs to lower energy costs, I am hoping that they take a good hard look at LED bulbs.
CFL bulbs tend to burn out in real life situations where they are turned on and off numerous times and there is the real problem of disposal due to the mercury they contain.
LED bulbs have a long life, and are very durable and in many instances make a better choice than the use of CFL bulbs.

Domingos Elio Mucambe
March 10, 2016

I commend the world bank for being a reliable source of important information regarding african countries, in particular the subsaharian part of it.
In my country Mozambique, the government policy has focused on prioritizing the extension of the national grid to rural, economically disadvantaged citizens with the limited resources that have been made available to the national energy utility Electricidade de Moçambique (EDM). unfortunately energy efficiency is still not a priority as opposed to the expansion of the power grid and this policy results in the utility running into losses. However, as the standard of living is improving in the country, a big chunk of credit goes to this subsidiary policy.
It is a fact that energy supply is not cathing up with demand in the subsaharian Africa, which has an enormous impact on the economy, development projects and investiment atractiveness.
The whole point is the paradoxy of having natural resources in abundance and not political resolve to prioritizing what is the nerve for boosting development by default: energy.

May 11, 2018

CFL bulbs are not the solution to Africa's energy shortage, nor is its adoption, the sustainable energy solution Africa needs.
The advocacy of CFL adoption as a solution is short-sighted, and a classic example of why initiatives that have been undertaken to address Africa's energy shortage have failed. The World Bank/other UN agencies push and pedal energy products on behalf of its commercial partners (products its partners want to sell, rather than effective solutions to Africa's energy shortage). Africa buys into and adopts such products, because the World Bank and other UN agencies are pedaling, them.
As energy expert, Mr. Jamal Saghir should be aware, CFL bulbs contain significant amount of Mercury. This is a major limitation. How would you deal with contamination and Mercury pollution, in African countries struggling with effective financial and scientific/technological capacity for many things, and to have to add to the resource capacity strain, dealing with Mercury contamination and pollution, well know for widespread hazards to humans, the least not being deformities to infants and children exposed to it.
Mr. Saghir: is the use of CFL bulbs not being banned, and the technology, being discontinued in industrialized countries? Why push this dangerous product to Africa?
A few years ago I had a number of discussions and raised this concern with the gentleman, who was pushing this dangerous product on behalf of the World Bank/UNDP under the program title, GEF or Global Environmental Facility. It is shameful that UNDP, and the World Bank would engage in pushing this product to Africa and other countries, inspite of knowledge of the Mercury issue, and as CFL is being banned and discontinued in developed countries.
There are more effective solutions to Africa's energy shortage. What the Bank has embarked on has not worked. CFL is one of the worst.
Effective long-term solution to Africa's energy need exists, and its is sustainable. If Mr. Saghir and the World Bank are really, interested in it, I would share it with him and his organization. I doubt World Bank's commitment to that, as a goal it wants to achieve.