Electricity planning research on international African electricity trade has focused almost entirely on how to minimise costs. The qualitative political and social science literature, however, shows that many energy infrastructure programmes and projects in Africa fail because planners have neglected important socio-political aspects. This work distills six separate political factors from a social science literature review proven to have an impact on African electrification. The issues range from marco-scale problems such as external political pressure and energy security to more micro-scale topics such as institutional design and corruption. A linear bi-criteria optimisation planning model then builds on these factors to yield the optimal trade-off between political risk and cost minimsation of the African electricity network until 2030. First, the results show that the network is subject to a considerable degree of preventable political risk if cost-minimisation is the only optimisation objective. Especially in a case where future CO2 emissions are restricted, the model chooses cheaply available large-scale renewable energy for export, namely hydroelectric energy from the Democratic Republic of Congo and wind energy from Sudan and Somalia. Second, however, the bi-criteria optimisation shows that decision makers can considerably reduce political risks at relatively low costs. Increasing levelised system costs by slightly over 3% in 2030 allows to cut future preventable political risks by 50%. Third, replacing large-scale exports with abundant domestic solar energy is the most cost-effective way to further reduce political risk on an Africa-wide scale. High solar energy shares increase national electricity self-sufficiency by decreasing reliance on politically volatile countries, and meet international climate commitments. These results quantitatively complement earlier findings in the qualitative social science literature which have ascribed positive political risk characteristics of solar PV. If decision makers value long-term reductions of political risk associated with cost-minimal African electrification, they should consider policy instruments such as increased CO2 emission costs, cautious evaluations of long-distance large-scale export projects and domestic solar industry subsidies coupled with international technology transfer to foster a more rapid switch to solar PV than currently projected. The copyright of the Abstract belongs to the authors. The North Sea Conference & Journal Ltd has a right to publish the Abstract on the conference website.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 14 Aug 2017
Event7th International Symposium on Energy -
Duration: 17 Aug 2017 → …


Conference7th International Symposium on Energy
Period17/08/17 → …


  • solar energy
  • African electrification
  • energy poverty
  • risk mitigation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Energy(all)


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