Clean EnergyIn a time when many world leaders are calling for strong action on climate change, organizations must balance between providing energy to underdeveloped regions and protecting the environment. USAID along with Power Africa are working on increasing access to clean energy in Africa, both protecting the environment and increasing people’s economic opportunities.

Sub-Saharan Africa has some of the lowest rates of energy accessibility in the world, with only about 25 percent of the population having access, compared to about 40 percent in other low-income countries. Even where there is energy, it is often unreliable, leading to blackouts that negatively influence businesses’ productivity and profit.

Energy access is vital, as it leads to more opportunities for education and business, as well as the ability to keep and store food and medicine. In turn, access to education leads to a decrease in poverty, as people gain valuable life skills and job opportunities.

Africa has great potential for clean energy and groups such as Project Africa have been able to increase investment. Last year, Google launched a new investment into a wind power project in Kenya, which will become the biggest wind farm on the continent. Current estimates indicate that this wind farm will be able to provide 15 percent of Kenya’s energy. Additionally, new investments are being promoted to access solar energy and strengthen the existing grids, so that energy becomes more reliable.

The economic benefits of increased energy are numerous. USAID worked with the U.S.-Africa Development Foundation (USADF) in Tanzania to create a solar-grid franchise that is made specifically to be accessible to female entrepreneurs.

When women have access to jobs and the ability to earn higher wages, it boosts the economy around them. In countries where women’s participation in the labor force grows the fastest, poverty rates decrease the fastest.

When people have access to energy, their quality of life and the opportunities they have dramatically increase. It means that students can study in the evenings or go to school in the early mornings, that businesses can develop and diversify and that people have access to more of the resources they need to thrive and grow.

The clean energy developments in Africa are both protecting the planet and bettering the lives of hundreds of millions.

Emily Milakovic

Sources: USAID, Washington Post, World Bank
Photo: Flickr

Nearly 620 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are living without electricity, with Nigeria, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo having some of the highest rates of power-less citizens. Lack of electricity, especially reliable electricity, has hindered development and has forced residents to continue to rely on outdated means of heating and cooking.

However, in recent years Africa has entered into the largest and most rapid expansion of reliable, and often renewable, energy sources in the history of the continent. As the power grid expands, so do the opportunities for residents of sub-Saharan Africa.

Here are just some of the ways access to reliable electricity is changing sub-Saharan Africa for the better:

1. Electricity is decreasing reliance on costly biomass fuel sources
Nearly three billion people worldwide rely on burning wood, charcoal and other costly and inefficient biomass fuels for power and energy. Burning biomass is not only inefficient, it is also unsustainable. Many arid regions in sub-Saharan Africa lack much forested land, and cutting down trees for fuel is wiping out what remains. Electrically-provided means of heating and cooking is more efficient, possibly cheaper and ultimately far more environmentally sustainable.

2. Electricity removes an obsolete and hazardous method of cooking and heating
Lower respiratory tract infections are the second leading cause of childhood deaths in Africa, second only to pneumonia. Burning biomass fuels for heating and cooking releases potentially harmful fumes and contributes significantly to respiratory problems in children and seniors. Using electricity as an alternative to burning biomass fuels removes an unnecessary health hazard from everyday life in the region.

3. Electricity is allowing people to connect and conduct business at much greater distances
More Africans have mobile phones than have toilets in their home, and the expansion of the electrical grid is giving previously unconnected regions access to a global community. Electricity lets distant relatives communicate by phone, businesses conduct international affairs and people around the world connect to one another via the internet.

4. Electricity is opening the door to a massive boom in new business
The growing establishment of reliable and sufficient electricity across sub-Saharan Africa is throwing the doors wide open for economic expansion. New businesses can move into previously undeveloped regions, bringing in new goods for consumers, paying jobs and revenue that circulates throughout the community. With electrical access, individuals can seek out entrepreneurial opportunities with the ability to grow and expand beyond their immediate locale.

5. Electricity is becoming more affordable as more people realize its value
Until recently, the demand for electricity had been low, but not for lack of interest. Electricity is one of the most highly subsidized utilities in Africa, yet still beyond what many can afford. However, the recent booming of the energy sector has created a ripple effect, driving down utility rates while growing in demand. This in turn encourages more expansion.

Access to reliable and affordable electricity in sub-Saharan Africa is creating a feedback loop of positive growth, improving the quality of life for residents and establishing the potential for dramatic economic growth and a bright future.

Gina Lehner

Sources: World Energy Outlook, Health Impacts of Burning Fuelwood
Photo: Ask

Switching the lights on at night, cooking on a gas stove—in developed countries, these aren’t normally seen as life’s luxuries. But, for billions around the world living in energy poverty, these amenities are out of reach. The IEA defines energy poverty as a lack of “household access to electricity and clean cooking facilities.” Approximately 1.3 billion people around the world are living without electricity and 2.6 billion without amenities for clean cooking. In an effort to lower these numbers to nil, the UN started its Sustainable Energy for All Initiative with the goal of “bringing clean and modern electricity to all people by 2030.” Now, organizations like the Clinton Global Initiative and the One Campaign have joined the global movement to end energy poverty.

Governments throughout the developing world as well as organizations across the globe have been working to bring electricity to even the world’s poorest of neighborhoods. And, success has certainly been reaped. Since 1990, India has been able to deliver electricity to an average of 24 million more people per year. China delivered similarly well to its own people. But, the problem that has arisen in both of these countries, as in many others facing large-scale energy poverty, is a constant race to keep up with their rapidly growing populations. To be able to provide energy to these swelling populations by 2030, the rate of expanding electricity service would have to double, according to a World Bank report from earlier this year.

In terms of providing safer, cleaner facilities for cooking, the world faces a daunting challenge. Each year, an estimated 3.5 million women and children die of an illness resulting from the use of unsafe cook stoves in their homes. (Compared to the 1.5 million people that die each year due to HIV/AIDS.) Mainly in the rural regions of sub-Saharan Africa and developing areas of Asia, billions of people continue to burn wood or other biomasses for cooking. Thus far, governments and partnering organizations have worked to provide stoves that run on kerosene, natural gas, or electricity to ensure safer cooking practices. And yet, for the millions who have been reached, millions more are still in need of help.

Among the most promising goals, the UN Sustainable Energy for All Initiative is developing and expanding the use of clean, renewable energy around the world. Such development is vital, not only in combating global warming, but also in providing stable, efficient sources of energy in areas that are not yet on the power grid. To achieve this and all other goals laid out in the Sustainable Energy for All Initiative will require effective cooperation between all sectors of society—private, public, etc. With the combined efforts of all nations invested in ending energy poverty, however, 2030 could be the year that homes from New York to Shanghai and down to Mogadishu will be lit.

Lina Saud

Sources: IEA, National Geographic, Clinton Global Initiative,

Super Bowl Blackout

About 108 million people watched this year’s Super Bowl. That means that about 108 million people got to enjoy the half-hour blackout of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. For more than thirty minutes, a viewing public that was greater than the population of Rhode Island was focusing on the lack of power in the stadium. In case you’ve missed it, the Super Bowl blackout was a big deal.

While those in the stadium panicked at not having power for a half-hour, much of the world, as of 2003 an estimated 1.6 billion people, live without access to electricity in their daily lives. In the United States, we use electricity for so many things in our day-to-day life, phones, lighting, charging products, cooking and more, to live without it seems unimaginable. Thankfully, the world has changed a lot since 2003, with more and more people gaining access to electricity in their homes or in community centers and clinics around the world. This shift has increased standards of living, production, and education everywhere.

As of 2009, roughly 1.3 billion people still lived without access to electricity according to the group World Energy Outlook. As that number slowly gets smaller, we have to keep in mind that it is an issue, something that is often difficult to remember when the only time we really worry about the power in our lives is when we need to charge our phones or pay the bills.

Hopefully, those thirty minutes of Super Bowl chaos will have made people think a little more carefully about the lack of energy access around the world, and inspire them to take action on this cause.

– Kevin Sullivan

Sources:PolicyMic,Global Issues,World Energy Outlook
Photo:Digital Trends