Top 5 Opportunities For Power Investment In Sub-Saharan Africa

Kurt Davis Jr.
Written by Kurt Davis Jr.

African countries are looking increasingly to private investors as they grow their ability to produce electricity, liberalizing their energy sectors to support investor participation.

Last month’s article, “Turning the Lights On, Africa’s Energy Investment Opportunity” looked at the emerging investment opportunity in the power sector. This article highlights the top five opportunities in sub-Saharan Africa with an extra two honorable mentions.


Cameroon is a member of the West African Power Pool, an organization with the vision of integrating the national power systems of 14 of the 15 countries in the Economic Community of West African States into a unified regional electricity market. The medium- to long-term goal is a stable and reliable electricity supply at competitive cost for ECOWAS members.

Cameroon and the larger organization have their work cut out for them. Cameroon has an installed electric generation capacity of about 820 megawatts and an electrification rate slightly under 50 percent, which is relatively high for the sub-Saharan region, but this rate drastically drops to 14 percent in rural areas.

An estimated 88 percent of the electricity generated in Cameroon is hydroelectric with the remaining 12 percent largely derived from thermal. Although the majority of the electricity generation and distribution is managed by the national power utility which was privatized in 2001, independent power producers are welcomed under explicit governmental licenses and controls.

The greatest opportunity for producers is hydropower with about 20,000 megawatts in exploitable hydropower potential, of which a significant portion is found around the Sanaga River Basin. Drought becomes a concern in this scenario.

Cameroon nevertheless is set to capitalize on 5,000 megawatts of the available generation capacity as well as increase connectivity by 50 percent in the next six years. Projects include the hydro plant at the Lom-Pangar Dam, with long term potential of 10,000 megawatts, and two smaller hydro facilities, with 930 megawatts and 200 megawatts capacities, to be built by Rio Tinto and Sinohydro respectively. Still, more is needed in the hydro power space with gas turbines offering potential for investors.


Tanzania is booming on the back of large offshore natural gas discoveries in recent years. With power demand already exceeding generation in the country, Tanzanian leaders acknowledge a need for a plan to combat the estimated 10-to-15 percent per annum growth in the sector. Responsible for power generation, the Tanzania Electricity Supply Company claims the country has the resources to meet its electricity need. While this may be true, there are some glaring obstacles to achieving 100 percent electrification.

First, about 85-to-90 percent of the population is off the electricity grid. Transmission and distribution infrastructure is underdeveloped and regional interconnectivity is generally absent. Secondly, the electrification rate hovers around 18-20 percent with the rural electrification rate falling further down the ladder. Third, diversification in the generation mix is a gradually evolving discussion.

Tanzania heavily relies on hydropower as its main source of power. But this dependence arguably undercuts efforts to better incorporate gas-fired power stations, which have found life with the gas discoveries. The Tanzania Electricity Supply Company plans to grow gas-fired power to 50 percent of total capacity from its current 37 percent. Seven gas-fired power plants have been constructed in the last 10 years to support this growth.

Renewable energy is picking up steam (no pun intended) with Geothermal Power Tanzania announcing an iconic $350 million investment Tanzania’s first geothermal plant.

Solar and wind are also on the radar with the country’s abundant sunlight and wind. The government introduced the Rapid Electrification Programme in early 2013 with the aim of increasing electrification rates between 30-to-75 percent in rural and urban areas.

Independent power producers are strongly encouraged. Independent Power Tanzania Limited and Songo Gas are connected to the grid. Odebrecht International, backed by the Brazilian government, recently completed a feasibility study for a massive 2,100 megawatt hydropower plant in Stiegler’s Gorge. The electricity generated from this project would be shared equally by Burundi, Rwanda and Tanzania. A transmission project is also underway that will construct a 665-kilometer line with 400 kilovolt capacity from Iringa to Shinyanga.


The Growth and Transformation Plan is the development plan of the Ethiopian government. As part of this plan, the Ethiopian government recently announced plans to grow power generation from 2,177 megawatts to 37,000 megawatts by 2037. The pronouncement is nothing but aggressive. Yet it underscores the country’s unique position as an emerging giant with growing local and foreign demand from the rest of East Africa.

Ethiopia has considerable untapped renewable energy resources, including an estimated 45,000 megawatts in additional hydropower potential, 10,000 megawatts from untapped geothermal resources, and sizeable wind and solar generation opportunities throughout the Rift Valley.

The development of hydropower will remain on the forefront for Ethiopia, with the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (to be completed in 2018) and Gilgel Gibe III and IV as the most recent examples. Yet investors would be smart to diversify beyond hydro in Ethiopia. Wind already contributes 8 percent of the power capacity and this should grow to around 20 percent. Geothermal is also on the radar with a few feasibility studies and pilots in the pipeline with some investors talking about Ethiopia as having potential to become a major producer of geothermal on a global scale.

To support investor participation, the Ethiopian government recently liberalized the energy sector with the adoption of the Energy Proclamation, which granted private investors the opportunity to generate, transmit, distribute, sell, import or export electricity.

This new proclamation allows private power companies to operate in the country, export and create the regional network officials have been pushing for in the last decade.

Ethiopian leadership is providing the best support by expanding the transmission and distribution networks. The country is already interconnected with Djibouti and Sudan with several further projects planned to construct thousands of kilometers of transmission and distribution lines, introduce higher voltage levels for transmission lines, and build and expand control centers and related infrastructure. All in all, the country is demonstrating the greatest political willpower to boost power in the region with open arms for private investors.


An economic boom coupled with a growing population and high urbanization create a growing demand for electricity. Power demand has grown 10-15 percent per annum during the last decade with no slowing in sight, which forced authorities to employ load shedding to combat the big power shortfall and consequential outages. The country’s installed capacity is currently 2,546 megawatts, the majority derived from hydropower, thermal, solar and wind.

The Ghanaian leadership is backing several projects to boost power generation. The country is expected to add 2,500 megawatts of generation capacity with the next eight-to-10 years, albeit a significant portion of that power generation will come from natural gas.

The ongoing build out of the West African Gas Pipeline (from Nigeria through Benin and Togo to Ghana); a processing plant in Atuabo; an offshore pipeline from the Jubilee field to Atuabo; and an onshore pipeline to transport processed gas from Atuabo to Aboadze all underscore the government’s efforts to unlock the natural gas value currently constrained by poor infrastructure. Other notable power projects include Takoradi 4 gas turbine, the Ghana 1000 gas-to-power project.

The National Renewable Energy Strategy, together with the Strategic National Energy Plan 2006–2020, instituted a target of 10 percent for renewable energy (not including large hydro power) into the energy mix by 2020, including wind, mini-hydro, modern biomass resources and solar. Ghana is currently home to the largest photovoltaic and solar energy plant in Africa, the Nzema project, which has a capacity of 155 megawatts.

Although the Volta River Authority is primarily responsible for the majority of the country’s power generation and transmission, private investment into the power sector is encouraged and relatively well structured.

Ghanaian legislation supports independent power producers and public-private partnerships. Public-private partnerships are typically structured with private institutions undertaking 60 percent of overall investment.

Ghana’s current status as an electricity exporter, particularly to neighboring Togo, further encourages private investment. Ghana has an agreement with Cote d’Ivoire to export or import power as the situation demands. Expect the private sector to supply more power in the future than the current 53 percent provided in the market.

An added bonus: most rural districts in Ghana are connected to the national electricity grid, which makes the country a leader in the transmission race and turns the focus largely on generation.


Mozambique is nicely situated to address its power generation concerns. It is home to the Hydro Cahora Bassa Dam, one of the largest hydropower facilities in Africa, with 2,075 megawatts of capacity. The country has the potential to build another 5,000 megawatts of hydropower.

It is also home to massive gas reserves. Onshore reserves have been discovered in Pande and Temane, and offshore areas in the Rovuma basin are now being researched and could contain more than 100 trillion cubic feet of gas.

Large deposits of coal — an estimated 23 billion tons — were recently discovered in the northern Tete Province. Mozambique’s sustainable biomass and biofuels potential is also untapped, with estimates of at least 30 million hectares of arable land currently unused.

The potential is sadly still potential with slightly under 65 percent of households without access to electricity. Like other power-poor countries, Mozambique relies on heavily traditional or noncommercial forms of energy, including unsustainable biomass such as wood and charcoal.

The Mozambican government, accordingly in its national strategy, identifies power investment as imperative to combating poverty. The development plan includes construction of new and rehabilitation of old power generation and transmission infrastructure; increased exports and improved energy sector legislation to attract private sector investment.

Projects underway include two large hydropower projects in the lower Zambezi—the Mphanda Nkuwa, with a planned installed capacity of 1,500 megawatts, and the Cahora Bassa North Bank, with an imagined installed capacity of 1,245 megawatts. Other projects include coal thermal plants at two coal fields close to Tete. Moatize has proposed installed capacity of 600 megawatts and Benga has 500-to-600 megawatts of proposed capacity.

A major problem in Mozambique is the lack of transmission infrastructure, which  results in much of Mozambique’s power capacity being exported to South Africa and then re-imported back into the country at higher prices.

The Mozambique government is developing and constructing an extra high voltage north-south transmission system in Mozambique to export relatively low cost power to neighboring countries, as well as for meeting Mozambique’s growing domestic and industrial needs. Jumping the transmission hurdle is easily the best way to excite investors.

Honorable mention:


The Kenyan electricity market is structured as a single buyer market with Kenya Power Limited Company, the transmission and distribution utility, buying electricity from all generators on the basis of negotiated power purchase agreements for transmission, distribution and retail to consumers.

Kenya’s energy generation market is liberalized, with seven independent power producers contributing to the national grid. They have a collective installed capacity of 495 megawatts. Kenya Generation Company Limited is the dominant market producer with an installed capacity of 1,200 megawatts. Kenya accordingly has less than 2,000 megawatts of generation capacity to serve its population of over 43 million.

Kenyan officials have pledged to grow this capacity to 15,000 megawatts by 2030. Private investment is necessary to achieve this goal, especially if the country expects to tap into the 10,000 megawatts-plus of undeveloped geothermal potential in the country’s Great Rift Valley or meet any of its non-hydro renewable goals for power by 2030.


The unbundling of the state-owned utility Power Holding Company of Nigeria in November 2013 created one of the most liberalized power markets in Africa.

Fifteen of the 18 companies that made up the Power Holding Company of Nigeria were sold to private companies and over 70 independent power producer licenses were issued, drastically diversifying the market players in generation and distribution.

Transmission is still controlled by the Transmission Company of Nigeria, which is owned by government but managed by a private firm. Although it has been three years since the liberalization, Nigeria is still very much in its infancy for power development. Blessed with large gas reserves and significant hydro, coal, solar and wind energy sources, Nigeria is positioned to turn over a new leaf in the next 10 years.

Kurt Davis Jr. is an investment banker with private equity experience in emerging economies focusing on the natural resources and energy sectors. He earned a law degree in tax and commercial law at the University of Virginia’s School of Law and a master’s of business administration in finance, entrepreneurship and operations from the University of Chicago. He can be reached at