CAPE TOWN, The biggest gathering of energy and water experts in Africa is underway in Cape Town with the focus on the production and distribution of sustainable and affordable energy.

The African Utility Week Conference was opened here Tuesday by South Africa's Deputy Public Enterprises Minister, Ben Martins, who said that insufficient electricity and water remained one of the biggest barriers to development and prosperity on the continent and that this state of affairs continued to trap millions of people in extreme poverty and under-development.

The current energy deficit in Africa continues to be alarming and it is estimated that energy-related challenges such as power shortages and expensive off-grid solutions cost African economies between two and four per cent of their GDP (gross domestic product) every year," he said.

While South Africa's controversial one-trillion-Rand (about 75 billion US dollars) nuclear deal was dealt a blow in April when the courts ruled it irregular, South Africa's power utility, Eskom, maintains that it is aimed at lowering the cost of electricity.

Eskom Chairman Ben Ngubane said this is an opportune time to invest in the region and secure gains as regional markets expand. However, doing so in ways which ensure mutual benefits will have to be the key concern for investment planning and implementation, he added. Leveraging local and international investors through mutually beneficial returns should be explored."

More than 7,000 energy and water experts are attending the three-day conference.

Event director Evan Schiff says the rise of renewables, cheaper and more efficient technology and more efficient mobile payments systems, have led to a democratisation of power. It's now easier and quicker to install renewables and to install distributor generation systems in previously undeserved areas, in rural areas. So this is the movement of where power are actually going."