Data helps governments, entrepreneurs expand access to clean electricity in East Africa

Nearly 840-million people worldwide do not have access to electricity and most of them reside in sub-Saharan Africa. In East Africa the numbers are staggering: Nearly 13-million people in Kenya (25%), 38-million people in Tanzania (68%) and 31-million people in Uganda (78%) lack access to electricity.

Using data to link growing electricity demand with clean energy supply is essential to expand electricity services to those without power, which is why and nearly 20 partners today launched Energy Access Explorer. The dynamic open-source platform equips energy planners, donors and clean energy entrepreneurs with the information they need to electrify East Africa.

Without access to energy, the world won’t be able to meet development outcomes on health, poverty, gender, education and more. The new platform provides data to help strengthen the links between energy access and livelihoods.

“When vaccines can be refrigerated and health clinics can operate around the clock, more people are healthy. When lights stay on at home as well as at school, children can finish their schoolwork. And when food can be kept cool and fresh for longer, farmers can sell more produce and fewer people go hungry,” said Andrew Steer, the president and CEO of World Resources Institute. “Energy Access Explorer will help connect energy demand with supply in a way that’s never been done before to close the energy access gap, which is vital to achieving their sustainable development goals.”

The data shows that there is significant renewable energy potential in unserved and underserved areas of East Africa. For example, clean energy can help provide reliable power to vitally important facilities such as schools and hospitals, which often lack stable electricity or rely on expensive back-up power systems like diesel generators:

  • 82% of areas housing Kenyan schools and healthcare facilities have strong solar power potential and 68% have strong hydropower potential.
  • 98% of areas housing Tanzanian schools and healthcare facilities have high solar potential and 69% have strong hydropower potential.
  • 93% of areas housing Ugandan schools and healthcare facilities have high solar potential and 60% have strong hydropower potential.

The data platform includes an assistance need index, based on energy demand, economic activity and access to infrastructure and resources. It shows that 35% of Tanzania’s high-solar-potential areas are located where donor aid is needed most and 51% of the population is in areas where donor aid is needed could directly benefit from small hydropower.

“To effectively plan for expanding electricity access, we need more data on the demand side — not just on supply. Thanks to this platform, which provides satellite data and cutting-edge technology, we can achieve a better understanding of where there’s a market for solar home systems in East Africa and provide lighting, phone charging, TV, and radio to more unserved and underserved people,” said Denis Bomugisha, the data product manager at Fenix International.

Until now, electricity planners and suppliers have often been disconnected, using different tools and metrics to determine where supply was needed, versus where renewable energy could be installed. The data platform was specifically designed to overcome this hurdle by combining more than 20 data sets on energy potential, population density, topography, income distribution and more. Going beyond traditional tools to include critical infrastructure like schools, hospitals, and farms will dramatically increase the effectiveness of electricity planning to bring energy where it is needed most. Initial data comes from Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya, with plans to take the platform global over time.

The data and analysis enables entrepreneurs and off-grid developers to identify opportunities to expand their markets by visualising where customers are located and where demand for electricity may be high. By demonstrating where there is demand, the platform enables investors and development finance institutions to determine where their funding for electrification can be most impactful.

“The energy access gap globally has been narrowing, but slowly, and integrating energy planning is essential for any community development programme to succeed,” said Jeffrey Prins, the head of the IKEA Foundation’s renewable energy portfolio. “To provide sustainable energy to health clinics, schools and agricultural facilities, we need robust data on where energy needs are and how they are expected to grow into the future. With Energy Access Explorer, World Resources Institute provides a groundbreaking, much needed tool that will make access to renewable energy easier, quicker, more affordable and more inclusive.”

Contact Emily Kaldjian, World Resource Institute, ekaldjian@wri.org

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