Cameroon’s energy sector is of potential value to economic growth and social development. Nonetheless, its degree of potentiality to contribute to the country’s economy is questionable based on the numerous challenges faced by the sector. In this article, we highlight some statistics and discuss some of the key problems identified in the energy sector, and propose some policy options alongside.
Statistical background of the Energy Sector
Cameroon’s energy sector, if revitalized, would have a greater potential to contribute to the country’s economic growth and social development. Statistics show that the total installed electricity generation capacity in Cameroon was 2,327 megawatt (MG) in 2014. 60% of this came from hydro-power and the rest came from fossil fuel power plants consisting of thermal fuel and gas. Data from GET INVEST shows that the demand for power and electricity rates are constantly increasing. Accordingly, the industry itself (basically aluminium) consumed the majority of distributed energy (58%), the residential sector accounts for 20%, the public service sector accounts for 5%, the hospitality sector 2.5%, agriculture sector accounts for 1% and other services in the tertiary sector account for the remaining 13.5%. It is worthwhile to note that Cameroon’s electricity sector still suffers from persistent power outages thus affecting the whole economy negatively. Indicators from the Ministry of Economy, Planning and Regional Development projected a 5% cost to the GDP of Cameroon due to power failure. Some of the key problems and proposed solutions to Cameroon’s energy sector are discussed in the subsequent paragraphs.
Problems Faced by Cameroon’s Energy Sector and Proposed Solutions
- Cameroon suffers from constant power outages. It is alleged that Cameroon suffers from approximately ten electrical outages per month which last an average of two hours each, especially hydroelectric power plants. This is attributable to the aging energy infrastructure that leads to frequent shutdowns coupled with, transmission losses that are estimated at 9%. This has made power interruptions and load shedding to be common especially when there is a low density of rainfall.  The repercussion of business is disastrous. For example, in 2015 some 2500 containers – some destined for countries that depend solely on the Douala Seaport were piled up for six weeks due to power failure. Just because of power failure, a container pays just for one day 25000 FRS CFA, and if that has to be for 20 days how much will it cost? It has a heavy toll on the economy, especially as it constraints the manufacturing sector through an increase in generating capacity.
- The cost of accessing energy services is perceived to be very high and unaffordable by the poor. With regard to domestic gas and kerosene, it is still very high and unaffordable compared to the level of income earned by the rural and the semi-urban poor. The tariffs for electricity and other energy consumables should be properly revised to ensure its affordability by the poor. The sector regulator should also reduce the period purposed for the revision of tariffs.
- The rates of electrification are very low. The National average of the household electrification rate is around 23%. In the Northern area, estimations are as low as 6%. In addition, “figures quoted in numerous Cameroonian and international reports (estimated to be between 48-74%) are misleading as these simply reflect the percentage of the population that lives in a population center that has a connection point to the power network. This is not a measure of the rate of household electrification.” Consideration should, therefore, be given to people who live in remote areas by strengthening the generation capacity of extension plants.
- The rural electrification plan is inadequate. Statistics have shown that the rural electrification plan for most African countries focuses on the grid extension system. According to a report on the green mini-grid market development program sponsored by the African Development Bank, it is recorded that “almost all national utilities own and operate diesel-powered generating facilities not connected to the main grid, which supply electricity to secondary towns and larger villages.” This is not the right solution for rural electrification because it unavoidably results in significant financial losses for the utility as it is required to sell energy at prices far below its cost of production and delivery. Consequently, it leaves the most remote towns and villages unelectrified. There are three basic alternatives for providing new connections to presently unserved populations in Africa, these are extensions of the national grid; installation of separate “mini-grids” to operate independently from the main grid; and standalone generating systems that supply individual consumers.
- Lack of data, financial support, and standards. Information on most of the favorite sites for solar, biomass and wind sites is lacking. Furthermore, financial support for electrification is very low and the rate of implementation of electrification projects is too slow. More so, the lack of standards specifically adjusted to low-income earners is a hindrance to access fundamental energy services. With regard to domestic gas, there is no flexibility in terms of interchanging the bottles to ease purchase. There are no special motivations in Cameroon for the enhancement of local and renewable sources of energy. This plays down on the accessibility to electricity. The current policy framework in charge of revitalizing renewable energy up to 25% by 2035 as part of the government’s ‘Nationally Determined Contributions’ (NDC) should be further accelerated. Electrification rates for both households and population centers should also be augmented, and financial support to boost electrification should be considered if the energy sector needs to be revitalized.
In this article, we have argued that Cameroon’s energy sector if strengthened, would have a greater potential to contribute to the country’s economic growth and social development. However, its degree of potentiality to contribute to the country’s economy is questionable based on the numerous challenges faced by the sector. Some of the major problems faced by the sector are power outages, high cost of accessing energy as perceived by the poor, low rates of electrification, inadequate rural electrification plan and lack of data, financial support, and operational standards.
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