When the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7, which aims to ensure universal access to reliable, sustainable and modern energy services, was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, the Member States of the Economic Community West African States (ECOWAS) had already established their regional roadmap and presented their national action programs to achieve it. The region appears to be on the right track to break out of the energy poverty trap.


The 15 sovereign states (Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Côte d’Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo) that make up the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) are united in a collective desire to achieve regional integration in all sectors of economic activity as well as in social and cultural spheres. With a growing population of over 334.6 million people, ECOWAS Member States represent around one-third of the total population of Saharan Africa. The region, which includes a great diversity of demographic, socio-economic and social contexts as well as different landscapes and cultures, also faces multiple challenges in addressing the lack of access to sustainable energy.

The rate of access to electricity in the ECOWAS region is among the lowest on the planet, with only 42% of the total population and 8% of rural residents being served by the grid. The region faces energy vulnerability, volatile oil prices and unreliable systems. Energy poverty and its consequences for local economies and social development should be the predominant challenge for West Africa until 2030. Access to electricity varies a lot: in Niger, the electrification rate barely reaches 9% (2001) while Cape Verde has practically achieved the objective of universal access. However, the national rates mask huge gaps between access in urban areas and that in rural areas which are underserved by the networks that supply large cities. In countries like Guinea and Sierra Leone, the percentage of the rural population with access to electricity is sometimes as low as 1%.

Cooking accounts for a large part of the energy use in the region. On average, 85.7% of the population currently uses solid fuels (mainly wood and charcoal) for cooking, ranging from a rate of 98% in Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali and Sierra Leone to a rate of less than 30% in Cape Verde. The region’s dependence on traditional biomass and solid fuels has negative effects on the environment and health, especially for women and children.

West African economies are already facing the effects of climate change and will be more so in the decades to come. There is therefore an increasing urgency to reduce emissions and encourage appropriate adaptation measures at the regional level while working to achieve the goals of sustainable development. Given the region’s vulnerability to climate change, the urgent need for reliable and affordable sources of energy poses a dilemma for officials.

The Sustainable Energy for All initiative (SE4All), launched by the Secretary-General of the United Nations and proclaimed by the 2014-2024 Decade of Sustainable Energy for All, has set three objectives: i) ensuring universal access to modern energy services; ii) double the rate of improvement in energy efficiency; iii) doubling the share of renewable energies. ECOWAS is one of the strongest supporters of the SE4All initiative which aims to help Member States out of energy poverty and is implementing a number of initiatives to achieve the objectives set.

Unlocking the potential of renewable energies and energy efficiency

The ECOWAS region has a vast renewable energy potential which, if harnessed, can play an important role in solving the energy shortage. In the coming years, the growing energy demand caused by rapid population growth (around 2.5% per year), urbanization and economic development will require urgent measures to harness the region’s immense renewable energy resources. .

Unlike solid fuels, renewable energy resources are distributed much more equitably, offering all ECOWAS Member States the opportunity to benefit from them. Hydropower potential estimated at 23,000 MW is concentrated in 5 of the 15 Member States, of which only about 16% has been exploited. According to initial estimates, that of the region represents around 6,000 MW. There are many forms of energy that can be harnessed. Some ECOWAS countries have considerable exploitable energy resources such as wind, tides, oceans, thermal energy and wave energy. The region also has significant solar energy potential with very high radiation averages ranging from 5 to 6 kWh / m2 throughout the year.

In 2012, ECOWAS Member States adopted the ECOWAS Renewable Energy Policy (PERC) which aims to increase the share of renewable energies (including large-scale hydropower) in production

electric up to 35% by 2020 and 48% by 2030. The share of renewables such as wind and solar, hydropower and small-scale bioelectricity (except large-scale hydropower) will increase by around 10% by 2020 and by 19% d ‘by 2030. These targets correspond to an additional renewable electricity capacity of 2,425 MW by 2020 and 7,606 MW by 2030. In 2020, all the population of ECOWAS countries will have access to modern cooking facilities that will be equipped with improved stoves or that will adopt another modern form of fuels such as liquefied petroleum gas. The share of ethanol / bio-diesel in fuels used in transport will increase by 5% in 2020 and 15% in 2030. By 2030, around 50% of health centers, as well as 25% of hotels and food businesses will be equipped with solar thermal systems.

It is entirely possible to improve energy efficiency, including in buildings, industries, electrical appliances, and the production and transmission of electricity. According to the 2014 ECOWAS Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Progress Report, the national energy intensity in the region ranges from just 3 megajoules (MJ) / dollar in Cape Verde to no less than 71, 1 MJ / dollar in Liberia. Together, the average energy intensity of the 15 ECOWAS Member States is 14.5 MJ / dollar, a level which is higher than the continental average of 11 MJ / dollar 1 .

The ECOWAS Energy Efficiency Policy (PEEC) has set the following objectives:

  • phase out inefficient incandescent bulbs by 2020;
  • reduce losses in the electricity distribution network to less than 10% by 2020;
  • ensure universal access to safe, clean, economical, efficient and sustainable cooking fuels for all the population of ECOWAS by 2030;
  • set up an ECOWAS Technical Committee on Standards and Labels and regionally adopt the first standards and labels for major energy equipment;
  • create regional efficiency standards for buildings (eg building codes);
  • create sustainable energy financing instruments, including carbon finance, by the end of 2013 and, in the long term, set up a regional fund for the development and implementation of energy projects. sustainable energies 2 .

Improving energy efficiency often presents the most economical solutions to meet the access challenge, offering a less expensive alternative to building new generation capacity.

Global Thinking, Local Action: The ECREEE Center for Renewable Energies and Energy Efficiency (CEREEC)

ECOWAS is playing a leading role in the development of a regional framework for sustainable energy in sub-Saharan Africa and much effort has been undertaken to provide guidance and support to Member States to adopt and create renewable energy and energy efficiency markets.

One of the concrete measures was to set up the ECOWAS Center for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (ECREEE), the first regional center that places particular emphasis on the use of renewable energies and technologies. improving energy efficiency in sub-Saharan Africa. It encourages and supports the development and enhancement of renewable energy and energy efficiency markets in the ECOWAS region. This center was created in 2010 by ECOWAS with the support of the Austrian and Spanish Governments and the technical support of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). It has established its offices in Cape Verde, a country which produces the majority of renewable energies and whose most ambitious goal is to produce 100% of electricity from renewable energies by 2020. CEREEC aims to create favorable framework conditions and environment for renewable energy and energy efficiency markets by supporting activities aimed at limiting existing obstacles in technological, financial, economic, commercial, legal, institutional frameworks. as well as in knowledge management and capacity building.

Since its establishment, it has undertaken the development and implementation of major programs, including two large-scale projects, PERC and PEEC. These two documents were adopted in 2012 by the Heads of State and Government of ECOWAS. They formulate clear objectives and also bring ECOWAS contribution to the SE4All initiative. ECREEE was responsible for the implementation of policies and appointed by the ECOWAS authorities to be the liaison officer of SE4All in the region. Over the next few years, it will facilitate and monitor the implementation of regional policies at the national level among all ECOWAS countries. It will provide support to Member States by drawing up a regional roadmap and National Renewable Energy Action Plans (PANER), National Energy Efficiency Action Plans (PANEE) as well as Programs SE4All National Actions – to achieve regional policy goals as well as Sustainable Development Goal 7, which includes SE4All targets.

In order to help Member States meet these targets and increase access to renewable energy, ECREEE is implementing a number of programs, ranging from the development of policies and regulations to the facilitation of project preparatory activities to ” ensure the financial viability of promising projects. One of the core activities of ECREEE is to contribute to capacity building. It is aimed at many stakeholders in order to improve awareness, the quality of facilities, support mechanisms and political processes. The flagship programs implemented include the Rural Electrification Program, the ECOWAS Small Scale Hydroelectric Program (SSHP), the West African Clean Cooking Alliance (WACCA) Program, PERC and the ECOWAS Program on gender equality in energy access (ECOW-GEN).

UNIDO has provided significant support to the Center since its inception and continues to serve as a catalyst to increase investment in sustainable energy solutions, strengthen policy frameworks to create an enabling environment and secure funding to promote renewable energy markets. , technological efficiency and low-carbon technologies that stimulate sustainable economic growth. The success of the Center has made itself known to the world. With the support of the Austrian Government and other partners, UNIDO is currently working on the establishment of similar regional centers in the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the East African Community, the Caribbean, the Pacific as well as other regions. UNIDO provides technical assistance for the establishment and operation of these regional centers (ECREEE is an example). The Global Network of Regional Sustainable Energy Centers provides a framework for south-south activities between centers.

The centers enhance regional cooperation, link with on-going national activities in the areas of policy and capacity development, knowledge management and awareness raising as well as investment and advocacy. trade promotion. There is agreement that some non-material barriers to renewable energy and energy efficiency can be overcome more effectively and at lower cost through regional approaches and methodologies.

Renewable energies and energy efficiency for productive purposes

Providing energy alone is not enough to lift people out of poverty. It is crucial to go beyond basic energy needs in order to provide the poor, especially women, and their communities with modern energy services that benefit them. The provision of sustainable energy for productive purposes means ensuring access to modern energy beyond basic services in order to ensure equity in employment and additional income, better access to electricity. education and health care, as well as improving living standards. Using energy for profit can increase productivity and income, thereby ensuring the financial stability of sustainable energy systems both off-grid and on-grid. Ultimately, the use of energy for productive purposes contributes directly, in general, to sustainable human development and poverty reduction. ECOWAS countries have implemented a number of programs focusing on productive sectors, with, in particular, the support of the Global Environment Facility. To eradicate poverty, the ECOWAS region is also emphasizing the growth of its industries in an inclusive and sustainable manner. Green industry and growth shows that sustainable energy contributes to the advancement of human society, ranging from job creation and industrial competition to enhancing security and empowering women. The use of renewable energies in industrial applications, especially in small and medium-sized enterprises, is very promising.

Unlocking the untapped potential of decentralized solutions

While only 8% of the rural population in the ECOWAS region has access to electricity, universal access to this service by 2030 will not be an easy task. Grid extension is often considered the preferred solution for electrification. However, with 75% of the population without electricity living in rural and often remote areas, expanding the grid in the near future is economically unrealistic.

This is particularly evident in the context of rapid population growth and in low-density rural countries with low income levels. Great efforts are being made to extend the grid to rural areas, although it is more economical to use off-grid electrification in remote areas. “Off-grid” in this context means supply systems by mini-grids for medium-sized towns and villages and by isolated systems for remote areas.

The ECOWAS Renewable Energy Policy has set the goal of installing, by 2020, 60,000 mini-grids and 2.6 million isolated systems in the region that will serve 71.4 million people. , at a total cost of 13.6 billion euros. The Rural Electrification Program implemented by CEREEC will participate in its implementation. The mini-grids will be mainly powered by photovoltaic solar energy, hydroelectric power stations, wind energy, biomass, biofuels as well as by hybrid systems combining diesel. Isolated systems include solar home installations and pico-solar type systems. In particular, the use of electricity for productive purposes as basic services is encouraged to make electrification more financially viable and more economically advantageous for rural populations. With an ambitious grid extension program, ECOWAS is well placed to ensure universal access to electricity by 2030.

Gender equality and the energy agenda

Women are not only major energy consumers, they are also, disproportionately, most responsible for energy sources. There is a need to promote access to clean and affordable energy by directly addressing the energy needs and concerns of men and women while promoting gender equality and sustainable development.

The issue of gender inequality in the energy sector is due to the fact that it is not sufficiently taken into account in the planning process. In order to overcome the obstacles, ECREEE launched the ECOW-GEN mechanism. To ensure that women as well as men contribute to and benefit from the development of clean energy, this mechanism implements activities aimed at strengthening the economic situation of women by improving their access to energy for development. of their income-generating activities and, more importantly, to empower them to play an important role in the sustainable energy sector. In June 2015, ECOWAS validated the world’s first energy policy on gender equality.


1 The Economic Community of West African States (CEDE WA), the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), the 2014 Progress Report on Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency of ECOWAS (Renewable Energy Action Network for the 21st Century, Paris, 2014) p. 145. Available at http://ren21.net/Portals/0/documents/activities/Regional%20Reports/ECOWAS _ EN.pdf.

2 Ibid, p. 163.