Emerging Trends in Resource-Rich Sub-Saharan Africa and a Spotlight on the Nigerian Transitional Energy Market

66 Pages Posted: 26 Oct 2020 Last revised: 27 Dec 2022

See all articles by Tade Oyewunmi

Tade Oyewunmi

University of North Dakota School of Law

Ivie Ehanmo

Centre for Energy and Petroleum, Mineral Law and Policy

Date Written: August 23, 2020


There is no gainsaying that energy enables growth in both developing and developed economy contexts. The innovations that lead to (i) the roll-out of long-distance energy networks operated by vertically-integrated utilities as a means of delivering affordable and reliable energy, and (ii) viable wholesale markets for large-scale demand points such as steel and manufacturing industries; has been key in enabling industrialization and modern standards of living over the past century. In several jurisdictions, the traditional energy supply systems gradually gave way to the paradigm of creating competitive wholesale markets complemented by open access to those networks and now more recently an increasing array of distributed energy resources and/or variable renewable energy systems as part of the drive towards de-carbonization and sustainability.

Before COVID-19 struck, several countries in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) were grappling with the demands of managing rapid urbanization and economic development, reducing poverty, raising standards of living, and economic diversification to mitigate the impact of the boom and bust price cycles of exported resources (especially oil) in the international markets. Arguably, a key factor in the medium to the long-term realization of various economic and development aspirations will be the degree of access to affordable and reliable modern energy services. Notably, several Sub-Saharan African countries are adopting such paradigms and approaches to energy, even though there are still considerable institutional developments and investments required to achieve the desired objectives of secure, reliable, and affordable energy access for all.[2] From the late 1990s and 2000s to date, countries such as Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, etc. facilitated the participation of privately-owned Independent Power Producers (IPP) to operate along-side state-owned utilities. Others such as Senegal and Ghana as discussed in this paper are likewise implementing reforms to their traditional utility model for electricity supply and seeking to develop institutions such as independent system operators to carry out responsibilities for least-cost generation planning, power procurement, system operation, and power dispatch, and transmission and distribution planning.

In the unfolding drive towards universal energy access and a more sustainable path to support rapid economic development and growth; the legal framework and regulatory institutions have a pivotal role to play. It is important to have a coherent, clear and efficient framework comprising- well-equipped and resourceful independent institution(s) for economic regulation, creating an equitable and rules-based playing field for energy utilities, consumers, and private operators; and cost-reflective tariffs for utilities, while still ensuring the obligation to serve and provide reliable and affordable energy. Given the growing inclination for decentralized systems using natural gas and distributed renewable energy sources as a means of reaching the areas underserved by the traditional grid-based networks, such a legal framework would among other things provide a basis for (i) supporting community-based financing; (ii) construction and operation of micro-grids and independent distribution networks; (iii) for third-party generators and operators seeking market access; (iv) clarifying facility siting requirements; (v) guaranteeing the parameters for ensuring affordability and reliability; and (vi) establishing energy efficiency standards; (vii) establishing energy conservation and demand response measures; (viii) the creation and management of cross-border interconnectors, and (ix) ensure that civil society has the opportunity to participate in the energy decision-making process.

This paper aims to briefly highlight the emerging trends and outlook for energy sector transformation and reforms in some selected countries across the Sub-Saharan Africa region in Part II. Specifically, it exemplifies relevant developments in South Africa, Senegal, Ghana, and Kenya. It then focuses on the recent legal and regulatory developments in Nigeria’s transitional energy market as a signpost to plausible challenges, solutions, and opportunities that others may face in Part III. Undeniably, all countries, especially in Africa have their own peculiar social, political, and economic attributes, however, there are some common elements in the region as energy markets and sectoral reforms take shape such as:

(i) abundant local primary energy resources such as gas and solar but considerable requirements for local market structures and delivery networks;

(ii) reliance on traditional sources in the rural areas, while urban areas tend to rely on inadequate grid-based energy or standalone systems and back-up generators fueled by oil and diesel;

(iii) under-investment in transmission and distribution networks, although from the 2000s there has been growing attention to energy policy reforms, private sector participation, and liberalization;and

(iv) the affordability and network constraints for grid-based supply.

Nigeria typically takes the lead in several fronts, including the size of domestic oil and gas resources, the biggest economy, and population as well as in the process of market liberalization and reform efforts. Notwithstanding, the emphasis on emerging trends in Nigeria discussed in Part III shows among other things that sectoral reforms or announcing a scheme of energy-related master plans are not ‘ends’ in themselves but a ‘means’ to one or more ends which includes ensuring reliable and affordable energy supply to support growing social and economic development. A major determinant to realizing the ends is often the extent to which the local market structures, capacities, and institutions are supported by law and good quality regulation. The paper goes on to examine the regulatory framework governing the Nigerian Electricity Supply Industry (NESI) with particular emphasis on the evolution of the on-grid and off-grid electricity systems and the increasing role of renewable energy in a developing economy that is equally rich in hydrocarbons and thus relies considerably on natural gas for electricity generation. It discusses the challenges with the on-grid electricity supply and the increasing role of off-grid power supply in ensuring reliable access to the electricity supply.

Keywords: Universal Energy Access, Sub-Saharan Africa, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Kenya, Ghana, Energy Policy, Energy Law, Energy Regulation, Mini Grid, Off-grid, Natural Gas, Renewable Energy, Energy Reforms, Institutions

JEL Classification: Q53, Q58, P11, P14, P16, P28, P52, L11, L52, L71, L72, L94, L95, K23, K32

Suggested Citation

Oyewunmi, Tade and Ehanmo, Ivie, Emerging Trends in Resource-Rich Sub-Saharan Africa and a Spotlight on the Nigerian Transitional Energy Market (August 23, 2020). Tulane Journal of International & Comparative Law, Vol. 29, 2020-2021, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3679532 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3679532

Tade Oyewunmi (Contact Author)

University of North Dakota School of Law ( email )

215 Centennial Dr.
Grand Forks, ND ND 58202-9003
United States

Ivie Ehanmo

Centre for Energy and Petroleum, Mineral Law and Policy ( email )

University of Dundee
Carnegie Building
Dundee, Scotland DD1 4HN
United Kingdom

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