Advancing energy development in the Sahel is essential in building a prosperous future. The six Sahelian countries considered in this report (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal) all face energy-related obstacles that challenge their objectives for regional stability and socio-economic development. These include very low electrification rates and high vulnerability to the impacts of climate change. This report sheds light on one of the least studied energy regions on the planet, bringing key energy data and analyses on possible energy futures for the region, which will be dictated by domestic energy policy decisions and national and international flows of capital. Our analysis is based on two scenarios:

  • The Stated Policies Scenario (STEPS) reflects today’s policy frameworks and plans, and their impact on energy development. It does not take government goals and pledges at face-value, but rather assesses whether today’s policies are on track to achieve these goals. It takes a granular, sector-by-sector look at existing policies and measures and estimates how energy systems could evolve to 2030 under the influence of today’s concrete policies.
  • Africa Case 2021 Scenario (AC) looks at what it would take to realise Africa’s vision for more rapid economic development and the full achievement of universal access to electricity and clean cooking by 2030. Given the increasing global emphasis on and cost-effectiveness of low-carbon energy solutions, this scenario relies on achieving this additional economic growth while also managing CO2 emissions growth so as to keep in line with STEPS levels.

Rapid growth and development require greater energy supply. In 2019, the Sahel was home to 100 million people, a population that had doubled in the previous two decades and now represents 9% of Sub-Saharan Africa’s population (excluding South Africa). Population growth has been faster here than in other parts of the continent, with a fertility rate of 5.4 births per woman compared to a global average of 2.4. The region is mostly rural – over 60% of employment is in agriculture – with less than one-third of the population living in cities. However, urbanisation is accelerating, especially in the capitals where 30% to 55% of the national urban population is concentrated. The region generates 6% of Sub-Saharan Africa’s gross domestic product (GDP), but its economy has grown at a high pace with an average annual rate of 4.7% between 2010 and 2019, almost three times the South African rate of growth. Over the last two decades, primary energy demand in the six Sahelian countries has grown by more than 4%, and stands at 950 PJ – equivalent to the American State of Nebraska but with a population 50 times bigger. Energy consumption per capita in the region is still under 0.2 toe/capita, ten times below the world average and half of the average in Sub-Saharan Africa.

A resource rich but energy poor region. Energy infrastructure is an essential building block for economic development and quality of life, but Africa and the Sahel notably lag behind other developing regions in most aspects of infrastructure quality. The level of power generation capacity in the Sahelian countries is 35 W per capita, which is only a third of the Sub-Saharan Africa average and 4% of the global average. This is felt by the poorest in the region: two-thirds of the Sahel population does not have access to electricity and the regional disparities are great. In Senegal, access levels reach up to 70% while in Chad only 8% of the population has access to electricity. Traditional use of biomass represents 60% of energy consumption, by far the most widely used energy source in the Sahel, with the exception of Senegal and Mauritania, where oil dominates. Still, the share of traditional biomass in the energy mix has decreased from 70% to 60% over the last decade. Fossil fuels represent the remaining 40% of the overall energy mix.

Electricity generation in the Sahel stood at 13 500 GWh in 2019. The power sector is dominated by oil-based power plants – accounting for 75% of total generation, and leading to high electricity prices. Renewables account for 20% of electricity generation. Hydropower remains the principal source of renewable power, accounting for 12% of the region’s electricity and almost 40% in Mali. Solar PV and wind, almost absent from the power systems of the region a few years ago, now together contribute up to 5% of the electricity generated, and up to 15% in Mauritania. Generation from solar PV saw a doubling every year since 2015, following a number of solar plants coming online all across the region. But coal‑fired power generation has also seen a sharp rise, quintupling from its 2010 levels and reaching almost 1 TWh in 2019 (or 7%).

Looking ahead, good energy policy and increased financial flows could boost economic growth and improve livelihoods. By 2030, the Sahelian population will grow to 140 million, 40% of which will be in urban areas. The economy is projected to be 90% larger than today. However, under current policies and development patterns, this leaves 80 million people without access to electricity and 120 million without clean cooking. This is how it is envisioned in the STEPS, where energy demand climbs 45% higher than today, with one-half of demand being met by fossil fuels and the other half by traditional biomass. However, in the Africa Case, a focus on the construction of critical infrastructure enables greater economic growth. By 2030, the Sahel’s GDP grows 110% over today’s level and the entire population is expected to have access to electricity and clean cooking. This brings socio-economic benefits and improve livelihoods, including for refugees and internally displaced people, a vulnerable group of the population, which grew from 1 to 3 million people in the last 3 years. Fuelling this economy will take 1200 PJ – 25% above today’s levels – with almost 11% coming from modern renewable energy, compared to just 4% in the STEPS.

Energy access is fundamental for development, stability, improved health and environmental stability outcomes in the region, especially in rural areas. To reach universal electricity access by 2030, as in the Africa Case, the Sahel must connect 8.5 million people annually over the decade. We use geospatial analysis to identify whether grid connections or remote off-grid solutions are most effective in reaching Sahelian communities deprived of electricity. Grid extensions can reach almost half of households without access, especially in the more densely populated states of Senegal and Mauritania. Mini-grids can help connect one-third of the population cost-effectively and quickly, and stand-alone power systems are the best option for one in five people gaining access. To achieve universal clean cooking, more than 2 million modern cookstoves must be deployed every year, as in the Africa Case. In the remote communities, improved cookstoves that use biomass remain prominent, whereas in the more densely populated areas, people gain access via LPG and electricity. Government action is needed to support the construction of the necessary infrastructure, develop programmes to roll out these technologies and ensure reliable, affordable fuel supply to those gaining access. Consistent support is particularly important in regions still experiencing conflict and uncertainty, where disruptions to fuel delivery can be detrimental to lasting developmental changes in the region.

The Sahelian countries are particularly vulnerable to climate change, and their energy investments must consider these risks. The Sahel is among the continent’s most vulnerable regions to the impacts of climate change, despite contributing only 25 Mt of CO2 emissions today or similar as the Paris metro area. Climate change poses substantial drought and agricultural risks to the region. Food, water and energy security are strongly interrelated, with important implications for each sector and for the overall development plans of all the governments. Applying an integrated multi-sectoral approach to clean energy transitions in the Sahel would improve resource efficiency, productivity and security across all sectors. Ideally, this approach should factor in how to make these investments climate-resilient and regionally integrated.

The Sahel can achieve, with modest growth in emissions, universal electricity access and a doubling of the size of the economy by 2030. Both the Africa Case and the STEPS have emissions growing from 25 Mt in 2019 to around 50 Mt in 2030. However, this means that the Africa Case emphasises cost-effective energy efficiency and renewables in order to achieve universal access without translating into much higher CO2 emissions. An increasing number of low-carbon access solutions, such as solar home systems and modern biomass cookstoves, receive increased support, although traditional grid connections and LPG cookstoves remain dominant. Governments also implement efficiency standards for imported cars and appliances and expand utility plans for solar and gas in the power sector. The resulting emissions growth still leaves the region’s emissions per capita among the lowest in the world – the Sahel’s 2030 emissions would represent only 0.15% of today’s global emissions.

In the Africa Case, the demand for electricity outpaces every other type of energy and necessitates a major expansion of the power system. Over the past decades, electricity consumption in the Sahel has doubled every ten years. In the STEPS, the region’s demand for electricity grows almost threefold by 2030. In the Africa Case, it grows over fivefold to above 65 TWh. The demand for electricity surges to meet 140 million connected users, and each household demands an increasing amount of electricity for fundamental services as incomes rise and commerce expands. In 2030, electricity meets a quarter of the total final consumption requirements in the Africa Case. Meeting this demand requires investments in new generation capacity; in the Africa Case this averages USD 3 billion per year, more than two times above the level in the STEPS. This is small compared to the power sector investment globally – comparable to the cost of building three coal plants.

The electricity mix moves rapidly away from oil towards gas and solar. This improves affordability, reliability and environmental performance. Today, heavy fuel oil dominates the electricity mix of the region, with renewables – largely hydro – accounting for only a fifth of the electricity mix. In the STEPS, solar and natural gas rapidly displace expensive fuel oil generation, while hydropower and wind also expand, bringing the renewable share to 45% by 2030. The Africa Case sees over half of the electricity generated by renewable forms of energy in 2030, twice the levels of capacity when compared to the STEPS. Additional solar and natural gas capacity make up the vast majority of additions in the Africa Case over the STEPS. The high levels of renewables cut the CO2 intensity of the grid by threefold – the largest driver of decarbonisation over the next 10 years in the Africa Case.

Developing a robust, reliable electricity system is indispensable to realising electrification goals and helping develop and decarbonise the Sahel. Reliability levels in the Sahel are among the lowest globally. This hinders development, as businesses struggle to operate efficiently, health providers remain constrained in where they can safely treat patients, and citizens remain reluctant to become over reliant on electrical appliances, such as refrigerators and electric cookers. The lack of reliability also encourages the use of back-up diesel generators by those who can afford them, exacerbating air quality and inequity. Both scenarios see increased transmission and distribution investment with improved regional integration through power pools, and an expansion of domestic generation fleets to ensure power shortages elsewhere do not jeopardise the Sahelian countries’ energy security. Decentralised microgrids play a significant role, and provide near-term, cost-effective access solutions in remote, rural areas. They enable higher shares of renewable generation and deeper electrification, providing the foundation for the adoption of electric mobility and all-electric buildings in the future.

Regional oil and gas demand expands, but fuel security risks are minimised through improved fuel infrastructure, efficiency and diversification. Regional oil demand grows by around 50% in both scenarios; and gas demand grows from almost nothing today to 20% of the fuel mix in 2030 in the Africa Case. Improving transport efficiency and diversification of the energy sources helps keep more oil supply flowing to export markets, but requires substantial investment in regional fuel delivery infrastructure. Reliable fuel delivery enables switching to natural gas in the power sector, clean cooking with LPG, and greater car ownership in the Africa Case. Improved, diversified infrastructure, including remote microgrids, helps improve stability and minimise the ways in which conflict and climate can disrupt critical energy services.

Tapping into the Sahel’s rich natural resources can diversify the economy and energy mix, at a time when other regions are emphasising decarbonisation. Currently, oil and gas are an important source of export revenue for Chad and Niger, while large offshore discoveries in Senegal and Mauritania could make them significant exporters. However, decarbonisation targets in other parts of the world are weakening the investment case for new oil and gas, and present the risk of declining demand and revenues for current producers. The countries of the Sahel also hold reserves of metals and minerals that are used in technologies which are critical to clean energy technologies, such as copper, zinc, titanium and manganese. To date, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Mauritania, and Mali have begun to tap into these. If managed sustainably, and with new transportation and energy infrastructure supporting their development, these mineral resources could present significant opportunities for revenues and economic development.

Financing the Sahel’s energy transition requires new approaches to finance and international collaboration. The inflow of investment for vital infrastructure across the Sahel today is well below what is needed. All of the countries in the region registered declines in economic growth in 2020, with Mali, Mauritania and Chad entering into recession. The global economic contraction had major impacts on the extractive industries across Africa, and it worsened the financial situation for governments and utilities, which had been providing relief to citizens and businesses. This could jeopardise the ability to finance critical infrastructure projects in the coming years. Scaling up energy investment cannot be achieved without strong political commitment and durable partnership strategies. International public finance institutions, donors and multilateral development banks must all play a role. So must local governments, who can improve regulatory systems and stability in the region in order to unlock international support and ensure that concessional financing is able to leverage the most from private investment.

The region’s energy future is not predetermined. The Sahelian countries can decide the direction of their energy transition trajectories, and how best to align these with other developmental, environmental and climate-resiliency goals. The Africa Case lays out a plan for how the region can get there. But all pathways require enhanced regional and international collaboration to attract the energy transition financing that is needed to grow inclusive economies, improve livelihoods and achieve universal access to clean, affordable energy.