Across the world, there are still 1.3 billion people living in severe energy poverty, and almost half of them—587 million—live in Sub-Saharan Africa. In an attempt to expand energy access for people in Sub-Saharan Africa, President Obama announced the Power Africa initiative in June 2013, and today, the Sierra Club submitted written testimony for a Senate hearing on the ambitious initiative.
The initiative has brought much-needed attention to the critical problem of energy poverty in Africa. Today, the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations’ Subcommittee on African Affairs sought to examine the power of that initiative.
While commendable, this initiative should include avenues for small-scale, clean energy projects. These are called “distributed renewables,” and are often owned by individuals or groups instead of utilities. In the written testimony, the Sierra Club calls for the Power Africa Initiative to expand its support for distributed renewables in the form of off-grid and mini-grid energy access projects. So far, support from the Power Africa Initiative has been skewed toward large-scale power plants. Clean energy has received significantly less support.
The traditional approach to the problem of energy poverty has been powering homes and buildings with large-scale power plants connected to a geographically extensive grid. It’s becoming clear that this approach won’t be sufficient or economical. In many cases, distributed renewables are the best tool for the job as they’re better suited for many of the rural areas where people lack electricity. This is because grid extension is often slow and expensive, and is many times unreliable even in the areas where it reaches.