Africa: Clean Energy Most Cost-Effective

AfricaFocus Bulletin
June 30, 2014 (140630)
(Reposted from sources cited below)


Editor's Note


"From off-grid LED lighting to 'Skinny Grids,' we can now provide energy access with a fraction of the amount of power we used to need. More importantly, we can unlock affordable initial interventions -- like lighting, mobile phone charging, fans, and TVs plus a small amount of agro processing -- to help people get onto the energy ladder today rather than forcing them to wait decades for a grid extension that may never come. ... It's important to understand that we aren't just imagining this clean energy market growth -- it's already happening." -- Justin Guay, Sierra Club


According to a new report from the Sierra Club, off-grid renewable energy is not only better for the climate and the environment; it is also more cost-effective in increasing access to electricity. Making the parallel to mobile phone technology, the report makes clear that investing primarily in expensive power for the grid, through large gas-fired turbine plants or giant hydroelectric schemes, makes about as much economic sense as it would have to invest in landlines rather than mobile phones a decade ago. In fact, Africa has the potential to take the lead, emulating the mobile phone trend by bringing exponential growth to clean energy alternatives.


This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains a short article by Justin Guay, one of the authors of the report, as well as excerpts from the full report.


In contrast to the "all-of-the-above" energy approach of President Obama's initial Power Africa announcement a year ago, giving greater priority to off-grid energy is already gaining new momentum in policy circles as well. It was high on the agenda of the U.S.-Africa Energy Ministerial (; Addis Ababa earlier this month. And the new version of "Energize Africa," just introduced in the Senate, stresses the important role of off-grid renewable energy, with more explicit mandates than in the House version (which was called "Electrify Africa").


Neither the administration nor the legislative initiatives focusing on electricity in Africa include new funding, so their impact depends on encouragement to the private sector through loan guarantees or other support provided by specific agencies, such as USAID, OPIC, or EXIM Bank. The headline numbers announced are largely public relations; what will count is which projects actually get implemented. The alleged trade-off of climate damage vs. rapidly increasing energy access is spurious, as new clean technology is already cheaper and more quickly implemented as well as more environmentally friendly.


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