Africa's Energy Deficit: Energy Hacks Can Make A Difference

About six weeks ago I came across this quote from a Wall Street Journal article and I have been pondering it ever since:

Africa has the capacity to generate about 63 gigawatts of power for roughly 770 million people — about what Spain produces for its population of 40 million. For most African countries, the World Bank estimates that universal access to electricity is at least 50 years away. But these days, even the few who have come to expect electricity are finding it increasingly difficult to come by — or afford.

The article goes on to emphasize that the situation varies considerably from country to country, with internal conflicts and lack of investment among the primary reasons for low energy generation capacity in several countries. As India and China steadily modernize, we get constant reminders that they are going to be huge consumers of energy resources. The quote above is a reminder that large portions of Africa could eventually be major consumers of energy as well.

A reliable African energy infrastructure is necessary to attract large amounts of foreign direct investments. Electricity is vital in powering factories, offices, schools, hospitals, and other public services. While a modern infrastructure may be years away, there are “energy hacks” that can have tremendous impact over the short-term. One just needs to note the importance of cell phones in most African countries. Mobile phones have the added benefit that they can be easily powered using distributed renewable technologies.
At the recent Where 2.0 conference, Erik Hersman pointed to a paper he wrote that outlines the importance of cell phones in Africa (“Africa’s PC”) while highlighting software application areas (“search, news, community”) that could prove popular on the continent. Mobile phone initiatives similar to Grameen Phone’s Village Phone and Community Information Center could also be high-impact projects in Africa.

No doubt full-scale modernization requires the large energy infrastructure projects that take years to fund and build. Rather than get discouraged, I look to the work of people like Joel Selanikio (click here for details). Public health initiatives like Joel’s have demonstrated that simple mobile devices go a long way towards improving the lives of the poorest people in the world.

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  • I admire Mr. Selanikio for his work. He shows us that that there is a way to help the poorest people in the world, but there are too few people that choose that way.

    Greets from Austria

  • Falafulu Fisi

    I think that Africa’s main problems are:
    – widespread corruption of its government officials.
    – tribalism still dominates
    – respect for property rights is missing

    The reason why Western society’s wealth & prosperity is because they have fixed those 3 main points stated above.

    There is no amount of help to the African countries that is going to lift them in terms of economic/technology scale & prosperity unless they deal with the 3 problems that I listed above.

    Here is an undeniable fact that shows I am correct here. The UN and major western governments since the 1950s had poured help (financial/economic/technical, etc…) into African countries when the whites left and handed the power back to the indigenous. Look at what is happening now? They are no better today than 50 years ago since the white man left, or to put it bluntly, African countries were better off when the white man still used to rule them prior to handing back of the political power to the indigenous. I am no racist here , since I am Polynesian by ethnicity, but it is an observation from afar that I have recognized over recent years.

  • @ff

    I challenge you to begin your piece. I see Africa’s opportunities as . . . and to follow it through logically to its conclusion.

  • Rup3rt

    Some halfway technology memes still apply

    – Store and forward
    from Car batteries fungibility through still relevant fax and fido

    – Generativity
    Phone as PC

    – Satellite periphery
    Marginals can’t stump up for fibre but can set up anywhere

    – Pay as you go
    Cashflow is the eternal mirage

  • Thank you! great sharing!

  • Energy hack really can make some diffrence. some powerful difference.
    Maybe it can be more important community