Benefits and Challenges of Expanding Grid Electricity in Africa: A Review of Rigorous Evidence on Household Impacts in Developing Countries

Publisher: Energy for Sustainable Development, vol. 44, June 2018
Jun 01, 2018
Kristine Bos, Duncan Chaplin, and Arif Mamun

Key Findings:

  • Rigorous studies on household electrification in Africa are limited.
  • Evidence from other regions may not translate to Africa.
  • Potential benefits of electrification span economic and noneconomic domains.
  • Many barriers slow households' uptake of electricity in developing countries.
  • Costs of expanding grid electricity in rural Africa are large relative to benefits.
Electrification rates have risen dramatically in many developing countries, but most low-income African countries lag far behind. A growing number of donors are now targeting this issue, notably the United States–sponsored Power Africa initiative. In this paper we summarize research that can inform donors and governments working in this area. We cover challenges to and benefits of expanding grid electricity, prioritizing rigorous impact research in Africa when possible. The evidence we review suggests that potential benefits are large and spread across a variety of economic and noneconomic domains. However, expanding access cost-effectively and sustainably may pose a serious challenge. In particular, relative to the benefits, grid electrification involves substantial costs from building lines, improving capacity, and connecting households—costs that may be higher in Africa than in more densely populated regions of the world. Reducing customer connection costs would increase connection rates and could thus reduce the cost of building new lines per connection but might still not be cost-effective, especially in low-density rural areas.