While Nigeria and Ghana hope to attract substantial foreign and private investment to ramp up their power sectors, some of the poorer West African countries are looking at more modest improvements centred on solar projects.
A large part of Nigeria's recent power-sector strategy has focused on securing Chinese investment for hydro projects and the private-sector development of gas-fired capacity. But putting this into practice has not been a smooth process, with delays in bringing Beijing on board.
Abuja's energy policy is being undermined by the impact of the debt held by Nigerian power companies.
The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) revealed at the end of 2018 that it and partner Black Rhino had delayed the construction of the planned 540MW Qua Iboe gasfired plant in Akwa Ibom state because Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading (NBET) was reluctant to commit to buying electricity from new projects because it would increase its liabilities.
"The continued delay relates to the current cash flow challenges at NBET, as highlighted by the Azura project," an NNPC official told Reuters.
The 460MW Azura-Edo plant was the first privately financed independent power producer (IPP) facility to come on stream since the power companies were privatised in 2013, with financing backed by World Bank partial risk guarantees. It was intended to be a blueprint for future Nigerian IPPs, but has experienced difficulties in securing payments for its power from NBET.
The World Bank only promised to give partial risk guarantees to the Qua Iboe project if the Nigerian government implements agreed power-sector reforms, which may take some time.
Despite massive Chinese investment in African power projects, the involvement of Chinese firms does not guarantee financing.
For example, Abuja is still struggling to get the Mambilla hydro scheme in Taraba State, eastern Nigeria, built. It would be the country's biggest power plant, with generating capacity of 3.05GW and involve the construction of four dams on the Donga River. The project has been under discussion since 1982.
The China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation was selected as the main contractor on the $5.8bn venture in 2017 and the Nigerian government said that China's Exim Bank would provide 85% of the required funding, with the Nigerian federal government supplying the remaining 15%.
But progress has stalled, apparently due to Nigeria's failure to secure its share of the...