There’s a Way to End Energy Poverty—And It Has the Side Effect of Making Fossil Fuels Obsolete

Your feverish infant is brought to the hospital by you in the middle the night. You are asked by the nurse to return home and get a flashlight. When the flashlight batteries give out, she resorts to a flickering candle to guide the insertion of an IV needle, delivering malaria medicine, into your baby’s hand.

Maybe you don’t have a baby. Perhaps you commute 14 miles per day on a public bus in order to purchase fresh fish that can be sold in your community. You must make a sale every day before the ice melts, and then your stock becomes useless.

This is the rule in large parts of Africa. Almost half of the continent’s 1.3 billion population live without electricity, which destroys opportunities for education, jobs and adequate medical care. That’s why the U.N. has set the global goal of providing electricity by 2030 to 600 million people who are currently without it. To reach this goal, a wide range of stakeholders will be required: governments in Africa; large institutions like Rockefeller Foundation and the World Bank; entrepreneurs like Energicity; as well as development institutions like World Bank. Building on the recent successes, we can aim to supply 6 million more people with electricity by 2022. This will allow us to move towards 600 million in 2030. All participants must embrace new strategies in the coming 12 months to achieve this goal.
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Over the last 50 years, fossil-fuel-based centralized power-plant strategies have led to significant pollution levels and slow rollouts as a result of high construction and fuel cost. Minigrids powered by solar energy and batteries can supply clean, 24-hour electricity. And because they are decentralized—with the electricity that each community needs provided by solar farms in the area (optimized through artificial intelligence and Internet of Things technologies) and without long, expensive transmission lines—minigrids are often low-cost and deployable in weeks. Already, Energicity provides solar-powered electricity for 40,000 people. Our goal is to expand this reach to 250,000 in 2022, covering four West African countries.

With over $10 billion committed—including pledges from organizations like the Rockefeller Foundation and from a multitude of governments—bringing green power to 6 million people in 2022 should be achievable. Some of our successful models include a private/public partnership in Sierra Leone and minigrid firms Energicity Energy, Winch Energie, and PowerGen. The U.K Foreign Commonwealth and Development office is also involved. Private investors provide equity funding. Together, we expect to bring minigrid-based power to 10% of Sierra Leone’s population in the next 12 months.

One of Energicity’s customers in Sierra Leone is Memenatu, a businesswoman living in the fishing town of Kychom. She bought dry fish from the local market to keep it warm as she traveled 25 miles to Kambia to buy food. Due to the fact that dried fish didn’t sell very well at market, Memenatu only purchased 20 of each fish. After she got connected to Energicity’s solar minigrid, though, Memenatu could afford to buy and power a freezer—and as a result, her family’s income has increased by some 700%. Because frozen fish is more expensive than dried fish on the market, Memenatu can purchase more fish every day.

There are millions like her, for whom there’s a clear solution forward, one that brings needed access to electricity to those who lack it, while building up infrastructure that will help reduce human contributions to global climate change. All that is needed from foundations, climate experts, national governments, private investors and others, is for everyone to commit to distributed solar-energy. And to also take action on this approach by 2022.

This essay is one of several on concrete goals that the world should set for 2022 to prevent climate-related catastrophe. You can read the whole thing here.


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