Carnegie Mellon University
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Sustainable and Just Pathways Towards Universal Electrification in Sub-Saharan Africa

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posted on 2023-04-17, 20:31 authored by Charles SackeyCharles Sackey

Poor quality of education, high mortality in healthcare and low economic productivity are few of the many plights caused by a lack of access to electricity in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). On its path to universal electrification (i.e., 100% access to electricity), it is crucial that stakeholders in SSA’s electrification ensure that access to electricity is provided in both a sustainable and just way. A sustainable and just pathway is one where electricity system plans are designed with the needs and wants of the people prioritized, and access to electricity is able to yield long-lasting economic, social and environmental benefits. Researchers and policymakers have sought out least-cost pathways to achieve universal electrification in the sub-continent. While these leastcost approaches have been useful to policymakers in designing electricity system plans, they have left crucial gaps in the literature. First, much of electricity access research has focused on household electrification. Although electrifying the residential sector is useful for helping children study after sunset without having to inhale soot from kerosene lamps, for example, a residential focus misses out on the economic benefit that people may derive from the electrification of more productive uses of electricity. Second, there is a lack of studies that determine how to quantify latent demand for electricity in SSA countries. Such lack of consideration of latent demand has led many utility companies and minigrid developers around the sub-continent to suffer severe financial losses over the years. Third, these least-cost studies do not capture how varying preferences for equality may affect electricity system planning, and do not examine methods to potentially increase such preferences to ensure that access to electricity is provided in an equitable manner. 

In this dissertation, I seek to address these research gaps accordingly. In Chapter 1, using the agriculture sector in Ethiopia as a case study, I found that the cultivation of wheat would drive the need for larger electricity supply systems, such as grid extension and minigrids, to electrify small-scale pumped irrigation. While such electrification would require a capital investment of about US$10 billion over a 12-year period, it would bolster demand enough to drive down the cost of electricity in rural parts of Ethiopia. In Chapter 2, I review the demand estimation literature in SSA, and present a framework for quantifying latent demand. Applying this framework to Kenya, I show how the commercial and education sectors collectively have at least 126 GWh of latent demand. In Chapter 3, I integrate elicited preferences for equality among decision makers into an electricity system planning model. The results of my discrete choice experiment show that high preferences for equality among decision makers leads to a carbonintensive electricity system in our study. Hence, the least carbon-intensive electricity system may not necessarily be the most equitable electricity system in SSA countries. In Chapter 4, I show how social justice education can be used to increase preferences for equality among decision makers. Finally, I conclude the dissertation by reiterating the need for electricity access research to be more holistic in its methodology to ensure that policymakers and stakeholders in SSA are well-informed about how to attain a more just and sustainable future for Africa. 




Degree Type

  • Dissertation


  • Civil and Environmental Engineering

Degree Name

  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Destenie Nock