Solar energy's potential to mitigate political risks: the case of an optimised Africa-wide network

Philipp A. Trotter, Roy Maconachie, Marcelle C. McManus

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Citations (SciVal)


Electricity generation expansion planning in Africa has focused almost exclusively on minimising costs. Yet infrastructure projects in Africa have been frequently shown to fail because planners have neglected their socio-political realm. Using the social science literature, this paper derives six political factors that are crucial for African electrification, and incorporates them into a linear, renewable-energy focused bi-criteria optimisation planning model of the African electricity network. The results reveal a significant degree of preventable political risk in the network if the only optimisation criterion is cost minimisation. This cost-minimal solution highly depends on large-scale exports from some of Africa's most politically volatile countries, such as hydroelectric energy from the Democratic Republic of Congo and wind energy from Sudan, Somalia, Chad and Mauritania. However, the model demonstrates that raising the levelised cost of electrification in 2030 by 4% allows to cut preventable political risks of the network by 50%. Crucially, the optimal, most cost-effective risk mitigation strategy is to gradually replace large-scale exports with domestic solar energy abundant in most African countries. High solar energy shares increase national energy sovereignty, meet international climate commitments, and decrease the network's dependence on politically unstable and/or inefficacious countries for generation and transmission.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)108-126
Number of pages19
JournalEnergy Policy
Early online date20 Mar 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2018


  • African development
  • Generation and transmission expansion planning
  • Multi-criteria linear programming
  • Political risk management
  • Regional electricity trade
  • Renewable energy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Energy(all)
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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