Powering smart grids: opportunities to future-proof energy infrastructure in Africa

This brief provides an overview of the main features and innovation trends of smart grid technologies (with patent data for 1919–2014), investigates the extent to which smart grids will impact our traditional energy delivery model, and suggests policy recommendations for Africa to leapfrog to highly efficient and future-proof energy infrastructures. Energy system assets are capital intensive and long lasting. They are also vital to the societies and economies of each country. Today, 600 million people—representing more than two-thirds of people without access to electricity in the world—live in sub-Saharan Africa. The continent is home to 30 countries with electrification levels below 50 percent. In 2018, total installed generation capacity on the African continent was almost 245 gigawatts (GW), with South Africa and North African countries accounting for two-thirds of the capacity. This represents only about a quarter of the capacity in European Union countries. Furthermore, average losses of central grids amounted to 16 percent in 2018, almost seven percentage points higher than the average losses observed in other developing countries. There is an urgent need for African countries to have a better understanding of emerging smart grid technologies in order to speed the financing of future-proof energy infrastructure.