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Power Africa’s Existential Crisis: Some Say It Has Fizzled, Others Say It Was Never Meant To Happen Overnight

Power Africa’s Existential Crisis: Some Say It Has Fizzled, Others Say It Was Never Meant To Happen Overnight

U.S. President Barack Obama’s signature Power Africa initiative – a $9.7 billion plan to double access to electricity on the continent – has so far produced less than 5 percent of the new power generation promised but it was never meant to be a government handout. It’s a public-private effort and the results could take years to materialize.

Power Africa leaders say they are redoubling efforts to accelerate progress. U.S. agencies announced $1 billion in new loans and financing on Wednesday at the U.S.-Africa Business Forum for projects in Kenya, Ghana and South Africa, among others, Bloomberg reported in Independent Online.

The U.S. investment in Kenya’s power sector, announced Wednesday, is the single largest one to date by the U.S. Trade and Development Agency. It will support six projects that identify U.S. solutions to increase access to affordable, reliable electricity across Kenya and help diversify the country’s energy mix.

The six Power Africa grants for Kenya include funding for the Gitaru Solar PV Plant, Nyakwere Hills Solar PV Plant, Solar Microgrid Solutions for Island & Village Electrification, Olkaria Geothermal Power Plant, Lamu Gas-to-Power Project and Isiolo Solar PV Power Plant, USTDA said in a press release.

The U.S. Trade and Development Agency is all about creating U.S. jobs. It does this through the export of U.S. goods and services to emerging economies. The agency says it links U.S. businesses to export opportunities by funding project-planning, pilot projects, and reverse trade missions.

The U.S. has invited companies to bid for contract opportunities made possible by the projects announced during the U.S.-Africa Business Forum.


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Obama launched Power Africa in 2013 to add more than 30,000 megawatts of cleaner, more efficient electricity generation capacity and 60 million new home and business connections. Power Africa says it works with African governments and the private sector to remove barriers to sustainable energy development in sub-Saharan Africa and unlock wind, solar, hydropower, natural gas, biomass, and geothermal resources on the continent.

Power Africa’s goal was to add 10,000 megawatts of power and supply electricity to 20 million households within five years, Bloomberg reported. The project ran into political and economic difficulties, and has so far produced less than 400 megawatts of new power.

As of September 2016, Power Africa says it is supporting or has supported projects expected to generate approximately 29,000 megawatts of new, cleaner electricity. More than 4,600 megawatts have reached financial close, including the 450 megawatt Azura-Edo power plant in Nigeria, and the 310 megawatt Lake Turkana Wind Project in Kenya.

Power Africa couldn’t come together

Power Africa “was a well-intentioned effort, with a lot of smart people, a lot of willing participants, financial institutions and yet, for some reason, it couldn’t come together,” said John Rice, vice chairman of General Electric, in May at the World Economic Forum in Kigali, Rwanda.

“If you look today at the number of megawatts that are actually on the grid directly related to the Power Africa initiative, it is very little,” Rice said.

Stakeholders are partly to blame for taking a short-term approach tied to election cycles, Rice said. “When you are talking about infrastructure investments and power projects, you got to have the ability to get way past the next election. And if you don’t, those projects probably aren’t going to happen,” Rice said, according to a May 19 report in How We Made It In Africa.

Obama insists Power Africa is moving in the right direction. “Three years after launching Power Africa we’re seeing real progress,” Obama said Wednesday at the U.S.-Africa Business Forum.

Power Africa was never expected to change the continent’s energy landscape overnight, Bloomberg reported:

The goal was to persuade the private sector to tackle Africa’s power shortages, not simply provide a government handout, said Andrew Herscowitz, Power Africa coordinator at the United States Agency for International Development. Results will take years, he said.

“You can’t just wave a magic wand and have all the infrastructure appear – it takes time to build things,’’ he said. “A huge project doesn’t get built overnight. Not in the United States, not in Europe, not in China, not anywhere.’’