Reaching 100% Electrification by 2030 – A feasible goal?

Energy access – the way out of poverty

The access to modern energy services is essential for human well-being and countries’ economic development. Nevertheless, today there are still 1.2 billion people lacking access to electricity, 95% of them living in Sub-Saharan Africa or South East Asia. Furthermore, 2.7 billion people still rely on traditional use of biomass for cooking, causing a yearly death toll of 3.5 million people in these regions.1

The Republic of Sierra Leone, situated in the West of Sub-Saharan Africa, is home to 7 million people, out of which 54% are at working age (15-64 years).2 With only 1,700 USD of GDP per capita (PPP), the country is considered to have one of the lowest standards of living worldwide3. The access to energy, hence the increase in electrification rates, is the most effective tool to increase living standards, from providing clean cooking fuels and increasing sanitary conditions to the possibilities of establishing a functioning infrastructure for a working economy. Hence, energy access is crucial for lifting people out of poverty.4

Sierra Leone ranks amongst the last, considering energy access rates in the Sub-Saharan region, with an electrification rate of 15% on a national basis and mere 1% in rural regions.5 Thus, the Government of Sierra Leone has set an ambitious energy plan that foresees to reach 100% electrification by the year 2030.

Current energy mix

The major source of energy used in Sierra Leone is biomass, which is used for cooking and lightning and amounts to 85% of the total energy consumed. This is a rather high number considering the pollution created when cooking indoors, causing major respiratory diseases.

The import of petroleum products makes up 12% of the total energy consumed. These are used for transport and powering diesel generators. The fossil fuel consumption has more than doubled since the beginning of the 2000s6, even though electricity generated through diesel generators is ten times more expensive than electricity generated through renewable energy carriers, such as hydropower7.

Electricity accounts for 2% of total energy used in Sierra Leone. Currently, parts of the country in the West and South East are supplied with electricity. As of 2012, Sierra Leone recorded an installed capacity of 90MW, out of which 62% was generated by the Bumbuna hydroelectric plant8. This power capacity equals 22kWh per capita, which is the energy needed to power a 100W light bulb for a mere 9,2 days per year.9

Due to underdeveloped transmission and distribution networks, many areas of Sierra Leone are left out of the electricity grid, which is mostly outdated and unmaintained causing frequent blackouts.10 Furthermore, large parts of the grid were destroyed during the civil war, such as twelve isolated systems located in different towns across the country.

The National Energy and Strategy Plan

As of 2009, the Government of Sierra Leone has published a national energy policy and strategy plan aimed at alleviating poverty though energy access. This plan set out ten objectives on how to provide reliable, affordable and modern energy, while improving energy efficiency and protecting the environment.11 These goals intend to provide 50% electricity access by 2020 and 100% by 2030 to the population of Sierra Leone. This in turn means that an average of 68,000 households per year from 2016 to 2030 have to be provided with access to electricity.12 However, this would demand not only the implementation of standalone systems in rural areas, but also the expansion of the transmission and distribution grid to the non-electrified major localities. In order to realize this plan, an estimated 3 billion USD will be needed over the next few years.13

International Investment support

Investments in the energy sector in Sierra Leone were rather unfavorable over the past few decades due to the civil war as well as underdeveloped regulatory environments and the lack of data and information, which made it difficult to assess investments risks.14

Official Developmental Assistance

In mid-2016 Sierra Leone became the first country to conclude an agreement within the scope of the UKAID’s Energy Africa campaign, which supports African countries in achieving universal energy access by 2030. In the course of this campaign, projects aiming at grid expansion and implementation of Solar PVs were initiated by UKAID, amounting to 80 million USD.15

USAID’s Power Africa program is supporting Sierra Leone through a 44 million USD partnership agreement to strengthen institutions through technical assistance for development of utilities and integrated planning support.16

Furthermore, the World Bank has financed a 16 million USD project that tackled grid losses and increased access in rural areas in 2013. In the summer of 2016, the World Bank announced a 138 million USD project dedicated to the construction of a thermal power plant with a capacity of 58 MW, expected to be operational by summer 2018.17

Private Investments

In 2010, the office of the President introduced a Public-Private Partnerships Unit. In the course of this initiative, standardized power purchase agreements were designed in order to make investment procedures in the energy sector more transparent and reliable, leading to intensified private capital engagement.18

China National Electric Engineering in cooperation with Mujimoto Sierra Leone planned a 500MW solar thermal facility to be constructed in the next years. Further, the Indian steel and power company Jindal plans to build a coal power plant of 350 MW capacity in the North West of the country.

Hydro Power – The most promising way out of energy poverty?

Hydropower remains the cheapest way to generate power, with a levelized cost of electricity reaching between 0.02 – 0.19 USD/kWh in developing countries such as Sierra Leone.19 According to several reports, the country holds a vast potential for hydropower. Different water sources could generate up to 1,513 MW from 27 different sites.20 However, until today only 4,7% of this potential has been operationalized.

Nevertheless, in recent years high investments in hydropower projects were made. Until now, the majority of electricity generated was by the hydroelectric plant Bumbuna. Therefore, the Bumbuna Phase II project is planned to be constructed. The British private company Joule is undertaking this 750 million USD project, supported by the African Development Bank and the EU Africa Initiative that foresees to increase the capacity of the plant by 500% until 2021, reaching 252MW of output once completed.21

Another hydroelectric project was planned in 2016. The Memorandum of Understanding for the Bikongor III and Mange project, concluded between the Chinese company Sinohydro and the Ministry of Energy and Water, envisages the construction of a large hydroelectric plant that should reach a capacity of 160MW by 2020, financed by the Chinese bank Exim.22

There are as well several small-scale hydro power plants in the construction phase, expected to be finished by the end of 2017, reaching a capacity of 40 MW.23

Furthermore, being part of the Western African Power Pool, Sierra Leone will have the potential not only to supply its own population with electricity once the full hydro power potential is reached, but will also be able to become an exporter of electricity.

The Cote d’Ivoire–Liberia-Guinea-Sierra Leone Interconnection project will establish a transition network with high voltage transmission lines that will connect the distribution networks of the four West African countries, making it possible for Sierra Leone to export its energy throughout the entire West African region.

Gambia, Guinea–Bissau, Mali and Burkina Faso would be the recipient of generated oversupply, since these countries are net importers of electricity.24


A more transparent and stable investment infrastructure, as well as clearly defined political goals are a great step forward for increasing energy access. Even though investments are made in several energy sources, hydropower seems to be the most promising way out of energy poverty for Sierra Leone. This is not only due to its highly untapped potential, but also to its low costs, maturity of technology and low learning rates. Therefore, hydropower plays a key role in increasing the electrification rate of the country, if the expansion of the transmission grid throughout the country will be conducted as planned.

Nevertheless, considering that as of today only 15% of the population has access to electricity, the goal of reaching 100% of the people by 2030 seems to be unfortunately hard to reach.

1 IEA 2016,

2 World Bank 2015,

3 CIA Factbook 2015,


5 Presley K. et al 2016, Output and substitution elasticities of energy and implication for renewable energy expansion in the ECOWAS region

6 UNDP 2012, National Energy Profile Sierra Leone

7 IRENA 2014,

8 African Development Bank Group, 2013: Sierra Leone –Transitioning Towards Green Growth


10 UNDP 2012, National Energy Profile Sierra Leone,

11 Ministry of Energy and Water 2009,

12 SEforALL 2015, Action Agenda for Sierra Leone,

13 Ministry of Energy and Water 2014,


15 DFID 2017,

16 USAID 2017,

17 World Bank 2016,


19 IRENA 2014, Hydropower Cost Analysis,

20 UNIDO 2016, World Small Hydropower Development Report 2016,

21 Joule Africa 2016, Presentation to the Sierra Leone Investment Forum

22 Awoko 2016,

23 SEforALL 2015, Action Agenda for Sierra Leone,

24 ECREE 2012, Renewable Energy in West Africa,

Zoran Rusnov
About Author: Zoran Rusnov
Mr. Zoran Rušnov holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Economic Sciences and a Master’s degree in Environmental Technologies and International Affairs from the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna and the University of Technology of Vienna. Subsequently, he worked at the Institute for Managing Sustainability at the Vienna University of Business and Economics on topics related to Climate Change, Transition to low Carbon Economy and Energy policies in the context of the Europe 2020/2030 strategy, on behalf of the EU Commission, EU Committee of Regions and Eurostat. Mr. Rušnov worked as well at the EU Delegation to the International Organizations, representing the European Union in negotiations at UN conferences focusing on projects conducted by SEforALL and UNIDO. Additionally, Mr. Rušnov has conducted studies on climate change mitigation/adaptation and disaster risk reduction strategies on behalf of the German International Cooperation Agency, GIZ.