Nozipho Mabebe Wright: Who has access to renewable energies in Africa?

In her paper "Who has access to renewable energies in Africa?" the Energia Africa Programme Coordinator Nozipho Mabebe Wright discusses the importance of renewable energies for the African continent. The potentials of renewable energies should first of all be used for decentralized energy supply according to Wright. Along with this Wright strengthens the importance of womens´ empowerment and gender mainstreaming in the field of renewable energies. n"Who has access to renewable energies in Africa?" nIntroduction 
The current consumption of fossil fuels is unsustainable, harmful to the environment and contributes to climate change. This has led to the energetic turn, which presents an opportunity for greening the African energy sector, which in turn will lead to green policies and economies. A Green Economy is an important tool for achieving sustainable development, enhancing social inclusion, improving human welfare and creating opportunities for employment and decent work for women and men. Workers are equipped with the necessary skills, education and capacity building, and necessary social and health protections ( Green jobs are direct employment created in different sectors of the economy and through related activities, which reduce the environmental impact of those sectors and activities, and ultimately brings it down to sustainable levels. This includes “decent” jobs that help to reduce consumption of energy and raw materials, de-carbonize the economy, protect and restore ecosystems and biodiversity and minimize the production of waste and pollution (
A large segment of the African continent’s population, especially in SSA and in the rural areas of the continent’s middle-income countries, lives in conditions of acute ‘energy poverty’. Biomass provides over 80% of total domestic primary energy supply across the sub-region – even in major petroleum exporting countries. Electricity contributes less than 3% of total final energy consumption. The continuing dominance of biomass – wood fuel, dry shrubs, agricultural residues, and sun-dried animal dung – is due to the limited access to electric power supply. Less than 10% of the SSA rural population has access to modern energy services. Just over 20% of the population overall is connected to electric power supply (AfDB, 2008). In Sub-Saharan Africa, about 7 million people use improved cookstoves. Although this seems like a large figure, 615 million people still rely on traditional biomass and only 132 million have access to modern energy (

Women´s access to “green” technologies in Africa
The ENERGIA international Network, a network on gender and sustainable energy present in 13 African countries has undertaken gender audits of energy policies and programmes since 2005. A gender and energy audit aims at identifying gender gaps in energy/poverty policies and making gender and energy issues visible to a wide audience. The following case studies (source: from southern Africa are a result of the gender audits, and they are a clear indication that the continent still has a long way to go in creating access to ‘green’ or renewable energy technologies.

The major primary sources of energy available in Botswana are petroleum, coal, fuelwood and solar. Petroleum and coal each contribute 42 and 40% respectively to the total energy supply (Energy Affairs Division, 2007). In Botswana, females are most involved in fuelwood collection in Botswana’s rural villages, spending over 3 hours a day on average. In 2005, the number of female professionals in the four main energy organisations in the country is insignificant (<5%). Also in the years preceding 2005, 80% of the stakeholders involved in energy policy formulation process were engineers and 20% were planners, with little involvement of gender experts. A few gender experts are now involved in energy policy formulation, however the first national energy policy remains elusive.
Biomass accounted for 67% of total energy consumption in 2008, petroleum sources 23%, coal for 5% and electricity for 6%. Only 14% of all households in Lesotho have access to electricity, with most of these in urban areas. Paraffin (kerosene) is also used for cooking, heating and lighting, depending on access and affordability. Women are the main users of household energy for cooking and heating, which accounts for the majority of the country’s energy consumption. Although electricity demand and use is increasing, its application in meeting the cooking needs of the poor is limited due to it being prohibitively expensive for the poor. Women from poor urban households cannot afford the modern energy services available in urban areas for their domestic and productive energy needs. Productive use of energy is not prioritised in the Energy Policy Framework. There is also lack of women’s representation in energy sector institutions and suppliers. 

The following projects presented an opportunity to create better access to renewables for women who are the main users of household energy in the past. But this has not been case.
Global Village Energy Partnership (GVEP): The programme has been gender blind in its operations, not putting in place objectives that would enhance gender sensitivity which resulted in many of the projects related to it not adequately addressing the needs of the rural poor, and women in particular.
Rural Energy Master Plan (REMP): Extension of the grid has benefited rural schools, clinics and chiefs’ palaces. Women’s needs such as daily chores, income generation activities and other social responsibilities have not been met through these projects because it is expensive for women to connect to the grid in these areas.

How Africa can benefit from the change towards “green” technologies instead of being trapped in another neo-colonial setting depending on expensive technologies imported from Western countries

Africa must come to a realization that it holds the key to its own development. African countries, especially in Sub-Sahara Africa (SSA), need to make greater use of their huge largely untapped renewable energy potential  – especially hydro-power, geothermal energy, solar and wind power, and more efficient utilisation of biomass. Increasing energy access is a priority for Africa. SSA has enormous untapped renewable energy resources. Of SSA’s 1,620 GW known exploitable hydro-power capacity, less than 5% has been developed, contributing 45-50% of electric power generation. Of the 7,000 MW geothermal potential in the Great Rift Valley in Eastern Africa, only 138 MW has been exploited in Kenya and Ethiopia (AfDB, 2008). 

In the year 2008, SADC primary energy supply was estimated around 9552 PJ, with renewable share 39% (distributed as traditional biomass (36.66%), hydro (1.95%), and modern biomass (0.39%)). The rest of renewable energy sources namely, solar geothermal, wind and biofuels which were negligible. Electricity production in the year 2008 was dominated by coal (73%), hydro (17%), oil (5%), nuclear (4%) and natural gas (1%) (SADC, 2012).
In 2009-10, it was estimated that nearly 175 million people had no access to electricity in the ECOWAS region. Traditional Biomass (firewood and charcoal) represents the bulk of the final energy consumption, reaching up to 70 – 85% in some countries. Charcoal has remained the basic fuel used in these areas; charcoal is preferred to firewood because of its better combustion and lower transportation costs (ECOWAS, 2012). Currently, over 81% of the populations in the five East African Community countries live without access to modern energy services. In all the countries, biomass is the dominant cooking and heating fuel — accounting for up to 96% of energy consumption in some countries (
The above energy access challenges and the existence of renewable energy resources present an opportunity for African countries to tap onto the current sustainable development programmes resources and partnerships to develop the continent’s renewable energy sector, and its people. 

Ways that women and men already explore using the benefits of renewable energies in Africa
The following case studies show how both women and men in some African countries are exploiting the benefits of the renewable energy industry.

BPC Lesedi (Botswana): This company uses a franchisee system to distribute renewable energy technologies such as solar home systems, lanterns, improved cooked stoves (ICS) in the country. Three out of nine entrepreneurs are women franchisees. Services are extended to many households that are not covered by the grid.

Developing Energy Enterprises Programme (DEEP) (Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda): This project assists entrepreneurs with the identification of viable energy market opportunities, technology options, and service structures to generate revenue and sustain business. DEEP also  helps entrepreneurs to develop business plans and access. Around 885 micro-entrepreneurs are being supported with business development coaching. 56% of entrepreneurs are male, 42% female and 2% groups. The main technologies covered are improved cook stoves, solar and briquettes (41%) (GVEP).

Solar Sister (Uganda): Uses a direct marketing system made up of Solar Sister Entrepreneurs (SSEs): primary marketers and sales agents of solar lanterns and other solar technologies in rural areas. Solar Sister has an explicit focus on women in every stage of the technology supply chain (except for production). A Solar Sister is an integral part of the supply chain, and sources, distributes and markets the solar products (GVEP).

TATEDO: SEECO (Sustainable Energy Enterprises Company (Tanzania). Between 2000 and 2009, SEECO sold 1,886,051 fuel-efficient cookstoves; (about 70% of buyers were female), 122,680 fuel-efficient baking ovens (about 70% of buyers were female) and installed 212 solar dryers for which an estimated 60% of recipients were female. While women’s engagement is primarily as end users, they also work in the SEECO factory and serve as individual technicians who manufacture the stoves and ovens, and as trainers on the use of the solar dryers and ovens and business skills (Kirrin, G. 2012).

How to create conditions to enable men and women in Africa to benefit from renewable energies
The following are suggestions of what should be done to enable both women and men to benefit equally from renewable energies in Africa.n

  1. Assess potential for green jobs: A country assessment of how many women and men are employed in the renewable energy sector and the skills that they possess should be undertaken. Established gender gaps would enable policy makers to design programmes that would contribute to upskilling women at the same rate as men. 
  2. Develop green policies for the informal sector: Green policies targeted at improving the informal sector should be developed. In many African countries the informal sector accounts for a large part of the GDP, is energy intensive, and is highly populated by women.
  3. Create a level playing field: Business conditions within the informal sector should be improved and made gender sensitive to allow both women and men entrepreneurs to access start-up capital, collateral, appropriate training and support in business development. East African countries have good practices which are a result of donor organizations such as GVEP. Programmes are designed in a way that women are assisted to enter the renewable energy value chain, particularly in production and distribution where most income is made.
  4. Address gender issues during policy development and implementation: National, sub regional and regional energy policies present an opportunity to reduce poverty and improve poor women and men’s lives only if they are gender sensitive. Many sub regional energy policies developed recently in Africa have not mainstreamed gender, a critical issue that must be brought to the attention of Africa’s policy makers in future partnerships. SADC and ECA could learn from the ECOWAS’ gender balanced renewable energy policy.
  5. Develop pro poor public private partnerships: These would assist in creating access to affordable and reliant renewable energies for household and productive use for those at the bottom of the pyramid, i.e. those that cannot be supplied by the private sector.
  6. Produce green technologies in Africa: It is time that the production of good quality renewable energy technologies is done in Africa. Renewable energy technologies such as solar lanterns should be manufactured in sub Saharan Africa as this will bring down costs and create opportunities for women and men to acquire new skills.

The ‘Energetic Turn’ presents an opportunity for women to acquire skills and clean energy technologies that will improve their livelihoods and quality of life. The strategies above should be developed and implemented to ensure that production of renewable energy fuels and technologies in African countries does not impact negatively on women, rather we should see more women benefitting from the green economy, being upskilled, e.g. equipped with artisanal skills to enable them to participate in the green technologies value chains. Effort should be made to create equitable access for women and men to opportunities created by ‘greening’ Africa’s economies. If this does not happen there is a risk that the ‘Energetic Turn’ will be seen as a neo colonialism project that perpetuates the gender stereotype where men continue to benefit more in developing economies than women. 


  1. ECOWAS 2012. ECOWAS Renewable energy policy.
  2. GVEP. GVEP’S Experience with Working with Women Entrepreneurs in East Africa
  3. International Labor Organization. Assessing Green Jobs Potential, ILO
  4. Kirrin, G, et al 2012. Invincible Market – Energy and Agricultural Technologies for Women’s Economic Advancement . International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW).
  5. Ministry of Energy and Water Development, Zambia and ENERGIA, 2011. Zambia Gender and Energy Mainstreaming Strategy 2011 -2013. Gender Audit 
  6. Ministry of Minerals, Energy and Water Affairs, Botswana, 2007. Energy Affairs, 2007. Energy Statistical Bulletin, 2007.
  7. Ministry of Natural Resources and ENERGIA, 2011. Gender Audit of Energy Policy and Programmes for the Kingdom of Lesotho. Policy Brief
  8. Regional Strategy on Scaling-up Access to Modern Energy Services in the East African Community,
  9. SADC and Ministry of Foreign Affairs Finland, 2012. SADC Renewable Energy Strategy and Action Plan
  10. African Development Bank, 2008. Clean Energy Investment Framework for Africa, Role of the African Development Bank Group, 2008.
  11. Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. Household Cookstoves, Environment, Health, and Climate Change – A New Look at the Old Problem. The World Bank, 2011.
  13. Working towards sustainable development: Opportunities for decent work and social inclusion in a green economy – Summary, 2012
  14. United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development. The Future we Want, Rio +20 Outcome Document, 2012. 



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