Mobile phone connections are more common than electricity in Sub-Saharan Africa

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How is it that there are more people in Sub-Saharan Africa with a mobile phone connection than any form of electricity? Over 700 million people across the region have a mobile phone, whereas only 450 million Africans have access to reliable electricity.

There are just under 600 million Africans without any form of power whatsoever, and there are now energy startups making a real difference to provide power to those without it. One of these companies is called Bboxx.

Bboxx ‘provides affordable, clean energy to off-grid communities in the developing world‘  and they have the ambition to electrify 20 million people over the world by 2020.

Their business model allows for customers to pay for electrification packages. These are a few dollars each month and provides solar panels, batteries and high-efficiency appliances to create their own off-grid electrical power.

Bboxx can work as an off-grid power source or can be complemented by on-grid base-load power for larger home appliances, such as fridges and televisions.

They are working with national governments across Africa to fit energy packages to households in the most remote parts of the continent, where on-grid power just cannot reach.

The Democratic Republic of Congo has asked Bboxx to supply 2.5 million connections to its off-grid citizens by 2020, and Togo has signed a contract for over 300,000 solar home kits by 2022.

Off-grid power is becoming more common across Sub-Saharan Africa and with companies such as Bboxx leading the way, it is only a matter of time until Africa reaches universal access.

Notwithstanding, off-grid power works very well in remote communities and villages, but Sub-Saharan African governments need to focus on providing cheap, affordable and reliable power by pushing for more public and private investment in coal, gas and oil power projects to set a sustainable base-load for all of their citizens.

Bangladesh is a key example of transforming their electricity output, having quadrupled their supply in the last ten years, meaning another 299 million Bangladeshis now have access to electricity.

It is only a matter of time until Sub-Saharan Africa follows suit.

First super-critical coal power plant almost completed in the Philippines

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The Philippines is about to add another 455MW coal-fired power station to its energy mix, pushing energy access to the remaining 2 million Filipinos that are currently left in the dark.

The San Buenaventura Power Plant in Mauban, Quezon, will be using the newest form of technology to help drive-down carbon emissions from coal power stations, the first of its kind in the Philippines. The 455MW plant has been fitted with supercritical technology, which helps to improve the efficiency of the power plant and reduce its overall carbon emissions.

The project is due to be completed in the next couple of months with an expected start date of producing electricity in early 2019.

As it stands, the World Bank reports that the Philippines currently enjoys an access to energy rate of 91%, meaning that there are still over 2.36 million households without any form of power, preventing businesses from growing, schools from teaching and Filipinos from being safe at night.

In spite of this, it is difficult to power the Philippines as they have over 7,600 islands, preventing on-grid power from reaching the most remote areas. However, the government has ensured that with the reducing costs of renewable energy, it will place a bigger emphasis on setting up off-grid networks for the harder to reach islands, enabling all of its citizens to receive the power they are entitled to.

In 2016, the Duterte government set out a national roadmap from 2016 to 2040 as a plan to reach universal energy access and to develop a sustainable energy system within the Philippines. As it stands, the energy mix of the country accounts for: coal (30%), hydro (20%), geothermal (10%), diesel (20%), natural gas (15%), and wind/solar (5%).

The government has included in its plan an ambition to increase its energy capacity by 19,000MW by 2040.

The Philippines is on a path to create a secure energy mix, but in order to reach the most remote islands, more emphasis will need to be placed on mini-grids supported by renewable technology, but backed up by a strong base load power from the country’s oil, gas and coal power plants.

The introduction of their new supercritical coal power plant next year will help to achieve their energy targets, and to provide electricity to the 2.3 million households currently left in the dark. But how will the government secure the extra 19,000MW needed to power its future?

East Africa is powering its own future

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The World Bank’s recent ‘Progress on Global Energy Goals‘ report has singled out East African countries for their progress and success in energy access. Kenya, Ethiopia and Tanzania have all achieved a year on year 3% increase in energy access from 2010 to 2016.

But, this is not enough to help achieve worldwide universal access by 2030; one of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.

As it stands, over 1.1 billion people, 13% of the world’s population, do not have any form of electricity, and on the current trajectory by 2030 an estimated 674 million people will still be without electricity altogether. How can wealthy nations accelerate current projects to ensure we reach the UN goal?

We need to increase the base-load of power. This should come from both fossil fuels and renewable technology, but we should always prioritise on-grid power. This is vital to power the 87% of rural communities that are currently left in the dark.

It is unfair that rural communities are being left behind, with most of them located in Sub-Saharan Africa, and Central and South Asia. How are they expected to run their businesses, power their shops or help to deliver education to their children?

Tanzania is an example of an East African country that is powering itself towards universal access. With help from the African Development Bank (AfDB) over $200 million has been invested in their power sector, helping to connect over 130,000 people and 18,000 businesses to the national grid.

With a significant amount of inward investment into Tanzania, they have set an ambitious target of producing over 10,000MW of electricity by 2025. They currently only have an installed capacity of 1,264MW,  with an energy access rate of just 32.8%.

Investment needs to increase in fossil fuel base-load projects otherwise we will not reach the 2030 target of universal electricity, especially with an increasing population.

Rwanda promises access to electricity to over 6 million citizens by the end of the financial year

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The Rwandan government has recently signed new contracts with energy agencies across the country in order to reach their target of an additional 6% of Rwandans connected to a power supply by the end of the financial year. This would increase access from the current 45% to 51%.

Electricity is the backbone of every country, as without it businesses would be unproductive, schools couldn’t teach and the economy would grind to a halt. Everyone across the world needs access to power in order to live their lives, and Rwanda is on the right path to securing it for all of their citizens.

Their target means that over 134,000 new households will be connected to the national grid and a further 68,000 households will be connected to off-grid power supplies.

Rwanda currently only produces 209MW, mostly from hydro and thermal power, leaving over 8 million out of the 12.5 million Rwandans without any form of electricity.

The government is heading in the right direction with a pledge to transform itself into a middle income country with universal access of electricity for all of its citizens by 2024. The plan is to split electricity access to 52% being connected to the grid and the further 48% rural communities being connected to off-grid technology.

However, Rwanda is six years off of its target for universal access to electricity, but more investment is required to strengthen their transmission networks to eradicate power outages, and more investment is required for power generation to connect an additional 8 million citizens to the grid.

By building more power plants, Rwanda would exceed its target of 512MW base-load power supply by 2024, and by focusing on cheaper reliable sources of power, this would enable the government to reach their target of universal access before 2024. However, without any further investment, Rwanda will be left behind compared to its neighbours in sub-Saharan Africa.

Mini-grids will not power Africa alone by 2030

Mini-grids will not power Africa alone by 2030

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Powering Africa and the developing world is a worldwide priority for developed countries and mini-grids are a suitable option for the most remote parts of the continent. However, mini-grids alone will not bring light and prosperity to all Africans.

The Africa Mini-grid Developers Association (AMDA) are in the process of launching a project to help up-scale mini grid projects across Africa. They require over $187 billion between now and 2030 to help reach universal energy access to electricity. In addition to this, the International Energy Agency has said that a separate amount of $391 billion will be required to fund on-grid technology alongside off-grid.

Off-grid technology is important to the future of the continent, but at such an expense it ought to be reconsidered as it will account for 48% of the total needed to invest in Africa to reach universal access by 2030.

Currently 600 million sub-Saharan Africans – two-thirds of the entire population – are without any form of electricity. Both on-grid and off-grid investment is needed but should it be at such an expense in the form of unreliable and costly renewable technology?

There is a general consensus agreed by the United Nations and 193 countries that every nation should reach universal energy access by 2030, but it is unlikely to be achieved in sub-Sahara Africa by this time.

India is an example of a country that has focused on universal energy access by using natural resources, prioritising giving electricity to all of its citizens before looking into alternative renewable technology. This has ensured that India is now on the cusp of achieving 100% access for all of its citizens in the next few years, way before the 2030 ambition.

Countries across Africa need to follow India and focus on promoting all forms of energy, both on and off-grid. However, it is vital that it is done in a way that does not mean a huge expense for relatively little reward in terms of energy generation.

African countries should prioritise the natural resources that each country harnesses and produce enough electricity so that their citizens can cook their dinner, read a book, walk the streets at night, enjoy their education, and so that they can run their own businesses. By improving energy access, you improve the economy of developing countries, and the lives of all of their citizens.

Bangladesh is a leading example of how electricity access can power development

Bangladesh is a leading example of how electricity access can power development

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Bangladesh are becoming world leaders in developing their own national grid, with a continuing commitment to provide universal access to electricity for all of their citizens.

In the last nine years, the Bangladesh Power Development Board have almost doubled the number of Bangladeshis with access to electricity, with over 90% access to the national grid.

In the same time-span, the Bangladesh government have quadrupled the national power supply from 3,268mw in 2009 to 11,059mw in 2018; over 299 million residents now have an electricity supply; and the number of power plants have increased from 27 to 121.

Bangladesh is setting a shining example of how a developing country should priortise access to electricity for all of its citizens.

Rather than prioritising expensive renewable technology, the government has focused on base-load power such as gas and coal to provide constant uninterruptible power. The government in Bangladesh has a commitment to generate over 50% of its total electricity supply from coal-based power plants by 2030.

The Prime Minister of Bangladesh has also expressed support for renewable energy with a target of 2,000mw of renewable energy by 2021, but it is clear that base-load power is the priority in order to give universal access to electricity.

Bangladesh is on course to reach universal electrification within the next decade, which will put the country on a trajectory towards a fully-developed nation.

This underlines an approach that all developing nations should follow: prioritising grid-level electricity supply as a means to give all citizens the ability to keep their lights on, power their businesses, and in turn allowing the economy to grow pulling the poorest in society out of poverty.

Hydropower struggling to provide for poor countries

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Developing countries have long looked to hydropower as the answer to extend electricity access- but global droughts and greater awareness around its environmental impact have damaged its reputation as a reliable and ‘green’ energy source.

Currently, hydropower accounts for around 17 percent of electricity generation- approximately 1,200 GW of installed capacity. 14 out of 17 of the world’s poorest countries are overly dependent on hydropower- relying on it for over half of their electricity needs.

In recent years, a succession of long droughts have severely affected power supply for those relying on hydroelectricity, with notable examples being: Kenya, Malawi and Venezuela. These countries were hit by widespread power cuts that caused havoc for their fledgling industries and public services, with assembly lines grinding to a halt, foodstuffs spoiling in the heat, and surgeons forced to operate in the dark. Scenarios which are all unimaginable for those of us living in the developed world.

There has also been a growing awareness of the negative impact that dams and reservoirs can have on the environment. Flooding land for the reservoir can destroy forests, wildlife habitat and agricultural land. Recent studies show that the stagnant water encourages higher deposits of sediment and nutrients that damages aquatic life. Furthermore, there are cases of local people being resettled to other parts of the country that are unsuitable for their livelihoods.

Hydropower can play an important role in 24/7 electricity generation, as long as it is part of a diverse energy mix that includes conventional energy sources such as gas or coal. Without reliable power, poor countries will continue to be left behind and unable to develop economies and public services.

DFID pledges to spend aid budget more effectively

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The UK’s Department of International Development (DfID) is planning to spend the aid budget more effectively.

DfID’s Penny Mordaunt reiterated the government’s commitment to the 0.7 percent of GDP target, but stressed that the UK taxpayer expected better value for money on foreign aid.

Speaking at Chatham House’s London Conference, the Secretary of State told the crowd that: “we need to ensure that how we are meeting the 0.7 percent is sensible and works for the British public in the long-term, so we are focused on ensuring there is nothing that hinders the most effective use of these funds.”

It comes after DfID faced widespread condemnation for frivolous spending on Western consultants with some receiving the equivalent of £600 a day rather than on frontline assistance, or spending £9 million on an an Ethiopian ‘Spice Girls‘.

For Mordaunt, Britain’s role should be to fund projects which developing countries are unable to do themselves. It is essential to “build capacity” in these countries, such as energy, to ensure that these countries can create their own economic growth. That is why the construction of large-scale power plants are vital for development, with experts asserting that just one would create up to 800,000 jobs. That is why Japan, China and South Korea are all building fossil fuel power stations in some of the world’s poorest countries.

If the UK Government is serious about improving how it spends public money, it must be prepared to use the aid budget on large-scale infrastructure projects. Investing in energy capacity is one of the easiest ways to ensure that developing countries can stand on their two feet without assistance from the UK taxpayer.



Reliable electricity is key to lifting people out of poverty

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Western environmentalists too often overlook the positive impacts that fossil fuels have on society, according to a new piece in the Wall Street Journal. The ability to generate affordable and reliable electricity is essential for industrialisation- which is the cornerstone of economic growth and development.

Today, around 80 percent of the world’s energy needs are met using hydrocarbons. The rapid growth in energy access, particularly in countries such as China and India, has been driven by the use of coal and gas.

Cheap energy helps power labour-saving and life-protecting technologies for the betterment of the world, such as air-conditioning, modern medicine, and transport.

Energy is vital for economic prosperity, with the science writer Ronald Bailey highlighting that it is in “rich democratic countries” that use their natural resources where “the air and water are becoming cleaner, forests are expanding, food is abundant, education is universal, and women’s rights respected.”

Dramatic increases in agricultural output has been driven by the use of fossil fuels. The availability of cheap energy ensures that a smaller proportion of the workforce can produce more food to feed a growing population. This explains why countries with poor electricity access continue to experience hunger and famine.

In contrast, alternative energy sources, such as wind and solar, are too unreliable to support heavy industry and manufacturing which provide well-paid and skilled manufacturing jobs.

According to Wall Street Journal, fossil fuels have had a net-positive effect on society- because it provides dependable and affordable energy access- allowing society to live healthier and more fulfilling lives.

New study: people in Africa want the grid

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A new study from a respected Washington think tank has found that off-grid electricity is failing to meet Africa’s energy needs.

Off-grid systems like rooftop solar panels are often touted by Western environmentalists as the solution to Africa’s chronic power deficit. But few in the West ever ask Africans themselves what they think.

The new study, from the Center for Global Development, does exactly that. It examined public attitudes to energy access in twelve African countries: Benin, DR Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Uganda, and Zambia. Key findings include:

  • In all countries surveyed, the majority of off-grid customers want access to grid.
  • Off-grid power is inadequate for most respondents’ energy needs. A significant proportion reported that their off-grid system did not fulfil any of their power needs.
  • People want a grid connection so they can power energy-intensive appliances such as fridges, hot plates, irons and TVs.
  • People on the grid still value access to off-grid systems, but as back-up when the grid goes down rather than a primary energy source.

“Making electricity more accessible, reliable and responsive to African demand across the continent should be a priority, said Dr Todd Moss, an author of the report and a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development.

“Off-grid customers may appreciate the lights and basic appliances like phone chargers that off-grid systems can power, but want to move up the energy ladder toward higher power appliances enabled by a grid connection.”

Reliable electricity is essential to improve people’s living standards and attract industry to these countries. But as this study shows, there are no easy shortcuts when it comes to delivering it.