Todd Moss, a research fellow at the Centre for Global Development, has a brilliant analogy for Western aid spending on energy.
Imagine, he says, the US sending salads to Ethiopia in response to the global obesity epidemic.
Such a policy would be both completely absurd and morally wrong. Ethiopians did not create the global obesity issue and besides, 32 percent of the population are undernourished – a far more pressing issue than wider waistlines.
Unfortunately, this is exactly what the West does on energy access. Africa didn’t create the climate problem, and in a continent where 600 million have no electricity at all, getting them the power has to be the priority. Yet in response to global emissions, Western aid agencies have placed major restrictions on large-scale conventional energy and are sending them solar panels instead.
Moss explains the problem with this approach:
“It is unrealistic to expect that nascent and expensive clean energy can meet all of Africa’s demand. The scale of energy poverty is such that sizeable populations will still require old-school grid power.”
His comments echo the words of Professor Joyashree Roy, Professor of Economics at Jadavpur University in India:
“We shouldn’t be talking about 10 villages that got power for a light bulb. What we should be talking about is how the village got a power connection for a cold storage facility or an industrial park.”
Sadly, solar panels can’t yet provide power on the scale needed for an industrial park, which is exactly what developing countries need to create jobs, growth and a route out of poverty.
For the world’s poorest there is simply no alternative to the cheap, round-the-clock power that conventional fuels can offer. Our aid policy has to reflect that reality.