Access to reliable and affordable electricity brings many benefits. It supports the growth of small businesses, allows students to study at night and protects health by offering an alternative cooking fuel to coal or wood.
This is mainly because there’s not enough sustained investment in electricity infrastructure, many systems can’t reliably support energy consumption or the price of electricity is too high.
Innovation is often seen as the way forward. For instance, cheaper and cleaner technologies, like solar storage systems deployed through mini grids, can offer a more affordable and reliable option. But, on their own, these solutions aren’t enough.
To design the best systems, planners must know where on- or off-grid systems should be placed, how big they need to be and what type of energy should be used for the most effective impact.
The problem is reliable data – like village size and energy demand – needed for rural energy planning is scarce or non-existent. Some can be estimated from records of human activities – like farming or access to schools and hospitals – which can show energy needs. But many developing countries have to rely on human activity data from incomplete and poorly maintained national census. This leads to inefficient planning.
In sub-Saharan Africa, there are more people with mobile phones than access to electricity, as people are willing to commute to get a signal and/or charge their phones.
This means that there’s an abundance of data – that’s constantly updated and available even in areas that haven’t been electrified – that could be used to optimise electrification planning.
We were able to use mobile data to develop a countrywide electrification strategy for Senegal. Although Senegal has one of the highest access to electricity rates in sub-Saharan Africa, just 38% of people in rural areas have access.
By using mobile data we were able to identify the approximate size of rural villages and access to education and health facilities. This information was then used to size and cost different electrification options and select the most economic one for each zone – whether villages should be connected to the grids, or where off-grid systems – like solar battery systems – were a better option.
To collect the data we randomly selected mobile phone data from 450,000 users from Senegal’s main telecomms provider, Sonatel, to understand exactly how information from mobile phones could be used. This includes the location of user and the characteristics of the place they live.
Data was gathered on the number of texts and calls, duration of call, and the locations where the texts and calls were made. This was compared to electricity profiles and consumption in urban areas and available information about the location of villages, schools and hospitals from the World Bank.
We found that mobile phone data produces an accurate representation of electricity demand through distinct patterns. For instance, when there are schools or hospitals nearby, there’s a huge spike in the number of calls and texts in the evenings – when people are at home.
This information gives us vital information for electrification planning. It lets us know how many people there are, the area’s electricity demands and the distance to the closest electricity grid. This allows us to then cost different electrification options – for instance if the grid should be extended or solar energy used – and select the cheapest option.
There’s huge untapped potential in mobile phone data as a source of human activity data. It opens up new possibilities to improve infrastructure planning in general. It can help increase electrification rates, but can also be used to make the provision of water, food, education, health and other valuable services more effective.
Eduardo Alejandro Martínez Ceseña, Postdoctoral Research Associate in the School of Electrical & Electronic Engineering, Electrical Energy and Power Systems Group, University of Manchester; Joseph Mutale, Professor of Sustainable Energy and Electric Power Systems, University of Manchester; Mathaios Panteli, Lecturer School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, University of Manchester, and Pierluigi Mancarella, Professor of Smart Energy Systems, University of Manchester
France signed infrastructure contracts in Kenya worth more than 2 billion euros ($2.26 billion) on Thursday, including a 1.6 billion euro 30-year concession for a Vinci-led consortium to operate a highway between Nairobi and Mau Summit.
Renewables firm Voltalia also sealed a 70 million euro contract for two solar power plants, while an Airbus-led consortium won a 200 million euro contract for coastal and maritime surveillance.
The contracts were signed during a visit by President Emmanuel Macron, who is seeking to boost trade in the East Africa region.
Nigeria’s ruling party took a close lead in elections for powerful state governors on Tuesday, although the final results hang in the balance as seven races were declared inconclusive or suspended.
Most of those seven states lean towards the main opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP), whose politicians voiced outrage at the inconclusive results and the suspension of elections in oil-rich Rivers state due to violence.
The lead for the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) after voting last Saturday follows victory for its presidential candidate Muhammadu Buhari, who won a second term in office last month, beating PDP candidate Atiku Abubakar.
Elections for governors were held in 29 of Nigeria’s 36 states.
By early evening on Tuesday, Nigeria’s electoral commission had declared APC candidates the winners in 13 states. Those included important victories in the megacity-state of Lagos and Kaduna, the seat of key Buhari ally Nasir el-Rufai.
The main opposition party took nine other states, mostly in the oil heartlands of the Niger Delta in the south and the staunchly anti-Buhari southeast.
The electoral commission has declared elections in six other states inconclusive, mostly because the leading candidate’s margin of victory was less than the number of votes cancelled. In five of those races, the PDP was ahead.
In a statement, a PDP spokesman called on the electoral commission to “immediately announce our winning results in these states and others where our candidates clearly won”.
Re-runs are to be held within 21 days of the vote in the states where results were declared inconclusive and at the electoral commission’s discretion in Rivers state where voting was suspended.
On Monday, a European Union observer mission said Nigeria’s elections need serious reform, after being marred by violence, systemic failings and low turnout.
Turnout for the presidential vote was just 35.6 percent, and was even lower for the gubernatorial elections, according to observers.
Around 600 people died in election-related violence from the start of campaigning in November to the end of the presidential election, according to reports by two Nigerian security research groups.
The PDP plans to contest the results of the presidential vote, and has asked to inspect voter registers, card reader machines, ballot papers and other documents used on Feb. 23. On March 6, a three-man tribunal granted the request.
International observers have not disputed Buhari’s victory, but said the conduct of the election was widely flawed.
MTN Group plans to push ahead with an initial public offering of its Nigerian unit once Africa’s biggest wireless carrier resolves a $2bn tax dispute in the country.
When the tax matter has been settled, "the board can assign a value to the company and we do an IPO," spokesman Tobechukwu Okigbo told reporters in Lagos on Wednesday. "It is difficult to put a value on it when there is such an issue."
Nigeria's Attorney General accused Johannesburg-based MTN of not paying all its taxes in September, and the two sides have yet to reach an agreement. A court hearing on the matter is scheduled in the country’s commercial capital for March 26. The dispute has cast doubt on MTN’s long-held plans to list the local unit - part of a deal to resolve a separate regulatory tussle in 2016.
The parent company has said it would list its local unit on the Nigerian Stock Exchange by June this year. "We anticipate it in two phases, listing by introduction and IPO eventually," once the tax issue is cleared, MTN Nigeria Chief financial Officer Kunle Awobodu said on Wednesday. According to MTN Nigeria CEO Ferdi Moolman, the listing by introduction could take place in April or May.
While the tax and IPO issues rumble on, MTN has received an approval in principle to start mobile-payment services in Nigeria, the biggest of its 20 markets around Africa and the Middle East. Financial services is a key growth market for the carrier due to a scarcity of banks in many parts of the continent and rising takeup of smartphones and data services.
MTN will start selling a new smartphone in Nigeria that costs about 18 000 naira (about R722 at current rates), which the company sees as a way of increasing data revenue, according to Moolman.
MTN shares rose 1.4% to R96.18 at the close in Johannesburg, the fifth consecutive day of gains since it announced a R15bn disposal plan last week. That included online retailer Jumia Technologies AG, in which MTN is the biggest shareholder, which announced IPO plans in New York on Tuesday.