Better Together: Regional Power Pools in Africa are Worth the Challenge
Despite an abundance of energy resources, electric power systems in Africa have been slow to develop, leaving a large portion of the population in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) without access to electricity. The growing interest in regional power pools across the continent could dramatically alter that trend, overcoming key barriers to investment and improvement in SSA’s electricity infrastructure. Regional pooling of demand and supply can reduce total reserve requirements by capitalizing on asynchronous peak demand among participants, create a larger market to justify large-scale projects, and help to shield individual systems from the effects of droughts or volatile fuel prices. Currently, there are four power pools in SSA, all in various stages of development (Figure 1). While there remain significant challenges to implementing these regional systems, there are several reasons why power pools are worth the effort in Africa.
Previous efforts to increase generating capacity have been hindered by a lack of economies of scale and financing for large projects at the national level. A key challenge to providing electricity throughout SSA is that energy resources, though plentiful, are not uniformly distributed in form or location (Figures 2 and 3). The Congo River alone has an estimated potential to produce 1400 TWh per year, equivalent to over three times the annual consumption in all of SSA in 2010 [2, 3]. Meanwhile, abundant coal resources are concentrated in the south while most of the natural gas and oil reserves are found in West and North Africa. Regional trade could enable resource sharing among countries, allowing resource-rich countries to export power to countries with limited resources and greater diversity in the fuels used to electricity generation. Developing these resources will require substantial capital investments, on the order of $27 billion per year , and sufficient consumer demand to guarantee investors can recover their costs through revenues. However, in over half of SSA countries, national demand is less than the size of a typical utility-scale power plant. By pooling demand across multiple countries, regional power pools provide a larger consumer base in which to sell power, making projects that would be oversized and risky for a single country economically feasible for a regional market.
 Southern African Power Pool, “Southern African Power Pool.” Map by TradeMark Southern Africa.
 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the International Energy Agency, “Key World Energy Statistics.” Paris, 2013.
 World Bank Group, “World Development Indicators: Electricity production, sources, and acces.” Washington, DC, 2015.
 Infrastructure Consortium for Africa, “Regional Power Status in African Power Pools.” African Development Bank, Tunis, 2011.
 BP, “BP Statistical Review of World Energy.” 2006.
 World Atlas, “Hydropower and Dams,” Surrey, 2009.