Understanding Benin’s Rural Electrification Policy

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by Marie-Bénédicte Adjaho

 

In many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, rural electrification rates are inconceivably low. In 2015, Benin had a rural electrification rate of 6.3%, while the national electrification rate was approximated at only 35%. However, the development of renewable energy is gaining strong momentum to change status quo. In Benin, the Government Action Programme, 2016 set ambitious targets for renewable energy- construction of two hydro-electric power plants, 95 MW of installed solar capacity and 15 MW of electricity from biomass by 2021.

 

For supporting the implementation of this policy, the Government of Benin has developed a  master plan and designed a regulatory framework in the scope of the Millennium Challenge Account-Benin II project “Off Grid Electricity Access”. The objective of the off-grid policy is to create an enabling environment for fostering private investments using decentralized systems that use the pay as you go model and enhance productive uses of energy.

 

Extending the grid for off grid access is both costly and relatively slow to implement.  Renewable energy is more flexible in that respect, hence, is being used by the government to complement grid electricity. The “Fonds d’Electrification Rurale” (Rural Electrification Fund) which was initially used for grid extension in rural areas will now be strengthened to be used for subsidizing projects initiated under the program. 1400 localities are being targeted under the program, most of which lie in rural areas. Depending on the size of the localities, micro-grid or distributed systems (solar kits and solar home systems) will be used to bring electricity.

 

The financial sustainability of the off grid electrification projects will heavily depend on the electricity consumption. The Off Grid Electricity Access Policy states that it will be important to support the development of the use of electricity for economic activities such as agriculture, commerce, small local businesses, etc. Without enough electricity consumption, projects won’t be bankable and this might deter private operators from investing in rural areas. For accompanying the electrification, the government is considering to set up measures in order to raise awareness for a productive use of electricity, for instance by informing the population on the types of appliances they can use, building capacity for business plans, etc. For this purpose, creating a local ecosystem involving local authorities, civil society and NGOs, microfinance institutions will be necessary.

 

Choosing a particular strategy for implementing the program is difficult. Multisectoral approach for energizing local economies and ensuring the viability of rural electrification programs was suggested by the Club of National Agencies and Structures in charge of Rural Electrification (Club -ER). Using the previous experiences of multisectoral coordination to steer off grid electrification project designs in Benin would be a good beginning. But without rigorous studies, we are left with more questions than answers.

 

In 2010, a review of 30 years of rural electrification, either through conventional grids or renewable energy systems, outlined the lack of robust studies to understand the impact of electrification projects on poverty. Impact evaluations on small solar systems led by Alkin & al in 2017 show little effects of these systems with respect to the expected socio-economic benefits. Small off-grid solar systems offer basic energy access, but there is thin evidence that they provide benefits that can boost rural development for the community beyond residential use.

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Marie-Bénédicte Adjaho is a renewable energy analyst working in Benin and can be reached at mbadjaho@gmail.com