There are vast energy resources in West Africa: plentiful natural gas, hydropower and huge solar resources. However, maximising power generation in the region has been hampered by a lack of cooperation between the region's countries.
Progress in electrification is gradually being made. Some 52% of West Africans have access to electricity, the World Bank reported in 2018. But it remains expensive, averaging $0.25/ kWh, around twice the global average.
The World Bank says the region could solve part of its power supply problems through increased integration. It calculates that $5bn to $8bn a year would be saved by making greater use of cross-border trade in electricity.
Some steps have already been taken. The World Bank's International Development Association has invested $750m in developing the West African Power Pool and about 7% of the region's electricity is now traded between countries. (For more on the progress with power integration, see the transmission article on p66.)
Nigeria has the region's largest economy by some distance, but ascertaining exactly how much installed and functioning generating capacity it has is not straightforward. Some of the country's gas-fired capacity has erratic supply and is not counted in some surveys, while parts of the grid are unable to handle all installed capacity.
The official total figure is 12,522MW, including 10,142MW thermal and 2,380MW hydro, but usable capacity is usually much less, sometimes as low as 4GW. The difference between urban and rural electrification rates in Nigeria is less marked than most other parts of sub-Saharan Africa without universal access to electricity: 55% of urban Nigerians have homes connected to the grid, while the figure for rural areas is 36%.
The debate continues over the wisdom of unbundling the National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) in a process started in 2005 and the subsequent privatisation of many of its successor companies continues. When NEPA dominated power generation, transmission and distribution, Nigerians routinely experienced power shortages. There was too little generating capacity, planned new plants were delayed, cancelled or regularly had insufficient gas feedstock because of low regulated prices and militant attacks on pipelines.
At the same time, the grid had a limited geographical reach and suffered even more from underinvestment than the generation sector. Those Nigerians with the money to do so bought their own generators to provide...