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Sharing Knowledge for Sustainable Electricity Production and Distribution in Africa


Globally, 1.2 billion people lack access to electricity while at least 2.7 billion people (38% of the global population) rely on traditional use of biomass for cooking and lighting. In the recent years, there has been positive signs with over 100 million people reported to gaining access to electricity every year since 2012. Unfortunately, despite these increased access, countries in Africa and Asia are still lagging behind with 90% of the 2.7 billion people without access to electricity2 living in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Recent energy reports, estimate showing that the two regions account for at least 876 million people without access to electricity at 244 and 632 million respectively1.

The need for clean and affordable energy is the focus of Sustainable Development Goal 7  (SDG 7), “ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all”. According to progress reports on SDG 7, access to clean fuels and technologies for cooking increased to 58% in 2014, a slight increase from 54% in previous years. Additionally, the same report indicated that more than 40% of the world’s population still relied on polluting and unhealthy fuels for cooking.

Open Africa Power -Solution Based Training Programme

It was against this background that the idea to develop targeted solutions geared towards increasing adoption of electricity in African countries was born.  Based on this, a six-month training dubbed “Open Africa Power” an initiative by Enel Foundation in partnership with academia in Italy and Africa was launched in Kenya. Open Africa Power Program provides high-profile African graduates with a holistic know-how of the electricity sector, enhancing the technical, regulatory and business skills required to work in the private and public sector towards the electrification of Africa.

In order to secure a clean energy future for Africa, there is an urgent need to provide opportunities for sharing knowledge and best practices in sustainable production and distribution of electricity. Devastating evidence on negative health impact show that indoor air pollution accounts for the premature deaths of 4.3 million people annually as a result of inhaling harmful gases emitted from burning of inefficient solid fuels (World Health Organization, 2016;UNDP & WHO 2009). Sadly, majority of those who die as a result of this pollution are women and children under the age of 5 (WHO, 2016).

Enel Foundation is a research-based organization, founded by the multinational energy group Enel, which focuses on the crucial role of clean energy in ensuring a sustainable future for all. Understanding that Education is one of the most powerful tools for sustainable development, Enel Foundation also develops capacity building projects such as Open Africa Power, aiming to forge a new generation of African leaders, deeply engaged with their countries clean energy future. Rolled out in 2018, the first edition of Open Africa Power attracted over 140 applicants from nine countries in the African Continent, of which 29 participants – 17 male, 12 female-  went through an intense training program in Nairobi, Kenya, and a selection of those joined also a two week training module in Italy.


To be eligible, candidates had to be between the ages of 24 and 35 years; be citizens of an African country and currently residing in an African country. Qualification based on educational background were restricted to those with at least a Bachelor’s Degree in Engineering, Computer Science, Law or Business from an African University and currently enrolled in a MSc, LLM or MBA degree from an African University. Being engaged in a PhD program was definitely an added advantage. Besides, the applicants needed to have a strong interest in the expansion of the electricity sector in the African Continent.

Enel Foundation, together with its implementing partner Strathmore University, led a collaborative team of academic partners including, University of Nairobi, Polytechnic University of Turin, Polytechnic University of Milan, Bocconi University and the Florence School of Regulation.

Universally integrated learning

The first announcement of the training was done at the RES4Africa conference in January 2018, where the Director of Enel Foundation, Dr. Carlo Papa, presented the academic cooperation venture reiterating that “education is one of the most powerful and proven tool of sustainable development. Sharing knowledge on all aspects of sustainable electricity production and distribution, from technology to policy and regulation, we will win the race to a clean energy future for Africa”.

The training was divided into four phases with different modules covering selected topics of the energy landscape: African Module, Online course with Florence School of Regulation, Italian Module and Give-Back Phase.

The African Module, hosted in Strathmore University between 9th and 13th of April 2018, covered the ‘State of the Art’ of the electricity sector through the lenses of the SGDs, thus ensuring alignment with important global trends, including of course SDG7 (Ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all). A total of 13 notable guest speakers from the Enel Group, Strathmore University, UN-Habitat, GiveWatts, Mawazo Institute and Kenya Climate Innovation Centre guided the 15 interactive sessions. Open Africa Power’s participants were exposed to a wide range of topics: from energy policy to networks and infrastructure, from sustainability to business development and ethical leadership.

The candidates also benefited from an on-line course on “Regulation for Universal Access to Energy”, offered by the Florence School of Regulation (FSR), which is a centre of excellence for independent discussion and dissemination of knowledge in energy regulation and policy. The course, comprised of 17 lessons run on 4.5 month time span, analyses the multi-dimensional approach to energy access, by emphasising the role of regulation. FSR’s innovative online platform offers live panels, forum discussions, interaction with leading experts in the field and requires the students to engage in group projects and individual activities.

After the one week Nairobi-based module, the participants were also expected to work on research proposals around key dimensions for the electricity sector in Africa or for their specific country. The concrete ideas proposed focused on helping to win the race from poverty to prosperity for the African continent. At the end of this process, a selection of the 12 candidates from 7 different countries moved on to the Italian Module, which took place between 10th and 23rd of June 2018.  The first week of this second residential module, aimed at exploring the ‘New Frontiers’ of the energy sector, was an academic week. Open Africa Power’s participants joined classes at Polytechnic of Turin, Polytechnic of Milan and Bocconi University.  Topics ranged from energy transition and distribution to renewable infrastructure, from climate change economics to renewable assets investments indicators. The second week was instead dedicated to field visits to seven world class facilities from the Enel Group: Larderello Geothermal Complex, Torrevaldaliga Nord Coal Power Plant, Smart Grid Lab Milano, Campo di Pile DSO Training Centre, Collarmele Wind Farm, Nazzano Hydro Power Plant as well as the Trading and Control Rooms in Rome. Enel experts gave lectures on daily activities and operation and interacted with the candidates.

The last stage of the program is a “give-back” mechanism by which the participants commit themselves to provide lectures to younger university students in the region and to serve as trainers for vocational training on Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency organized by Enel Foundation and its partners.

Open Africa Power 2019 Edition

 Open Africa Power 2018 did not go unnoticed and it was able to earn public recognition and appreciation from Rachel Kyte, CEO of SE4ALL (Sustainable Energy for All) as well as Eng. Isaac Kiva, Director of Renewable Energy at the Kenyan Ministry of Energy and Petroleum. Upon the success of the first edition, further support was secured to offer Open Africa Power 2019, which aim is to establish itself as a true international programme geared towards the sustainable electrification of the African continent. Open Africa Power 2019’s call for applications opened between October 25th and November 30th, 2018. The numbers show an impressive growth in popularity of the programme: over 400 students and young professionals from 37 different African countries tried to secure a spot in the innovative training venture.

A new format for the programme was designed and the number of participants has been extended to 63, with 16 African countries represented. Open Africa Power 2019 kicked off on the 28th of January 2019 in Ethiopia, with Addis Ababa University (AAU) co-hosting the African Module. The opening day was hosted in Addis Ababa Institute of Technology, while the remaining four days of sessions took place in the delightful venues of UNECA (United Nations Economic Commission for Africa) Conference Centre. As for the 2018 edition, the African Module focused on the ‘State of the Art’ of the electricity sector. The cohort of notable keynote speakers included Mr. Samba Harouna Thiam, Director General UNEP; Mr. Getahun Moges, Executive Director of the Ethiopian Energy Authority; Dr. Desta Mebratu, former Director General UNEP and now CEO of Africa Transformative Leapfrogging Advisory; and Dr. Roberto Zangrandi, Secretary General of EDSO for Smart Grids.

Open Africa Power 2019’s candidates have already joined the online course with Florence School of Regulation, which started on the 11th of February and will be running until the 24th of June 2019. Top candidates will travel to Italy for the two weeks residential module  towards the end of June.


This article was originally published in the May/June 2019 issue of the Kenya Engineer, Journal of the Institution of Engineers of Kenya.