One of the biggest tragedies of the new millennium is that, in a world where technology is transforming our daily lives, hundreds of millions of people in the global south are still living without the most basic technological need: access to electricity.
A New Deal for Energy, a partnership launched last week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, aims to fill that gap by connecting more than 200 million people in Africa, including 75 million off-grid.
This announcement is an unequivocal acknowledgement of the role that energy access will play in the economic growth of Africa and should be loudly applauded; for the recognition of the mandatory collaboration among key partners, particularly among donors; for setting out a clear prioritization of energy access in the [African Development Bank Group‘s] agenda, an area that the bank has been weak on in the past; and for its clear articulation of the political will and financing innovations that will be needed to achieve such levels of access.
The plan aims to invest between $40 billion and $70 billion a year in Africa – a huge, 200-percent increase from what was invested in the continent in 2014.
“The New Deal on Energy for Africa sets the ambitious target of universal access by 2025, which means bringing modern energy to 900 million people in sub-Saharan Africa,” said Akinwumi Adesina, president of the African Development Bank Group, in a statement.
The plan includes a huge group of actors, from international institutions like the World Bank to NGOs like the World Wildlife Fund, and several yet-to-be announced private companies.
“The Africa Progress Panel has already done the research to show that Africa can power itself — if it and others work together,” Adesina said.
One criticism of the plan is that is does not focus enough on off-grid solutions, which study after study has shown are far cheaper than grid-focused solutions. Moreover, off-grid energies rely on renewables – solar, wind, geothermal, biomass and small-scale hydro. These energies provide not only electricity, but environmental benefits to consumers as well, and systems can be built quickly, bringing energy to those who need it faster.
Some countries have already seen this transformation – according to the International Renewable Energy Agency, 100 million people now have energy access through off-grid solutions.
This is having transformational changes. For example, in India, the growth of off-grid solar has led the country to actually cut back on plans to build scores of new coal-fires power plants. This is one reason why the Paris Agreement was signed last month – because it is looking like clean energy can meet future energy needs.
The New Deal is a big deal – now lets shift the focus of the plan to what works – off-grid renewables, and we can take a big step toward connecting an even greater share of Africa’s 600 million who lack reliable energy. No better time than now.
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