Tue, May 01, 2018 - Page 7 News List

Poorest Africans at risk from power-for-all push

LISBON CONFERENCE:Officials and experts are to meet tomorrow to start two days of talks on ways to make sustainable energy available to everyone

Thomson Reuters Foundation, BARCELONA, Spain

Parts of Africa will get left behind in the global push to provide electric power to all unless national governments and the international community agree on a plan for faster action in places that are lagging, a top energy official has warned.

Of the about 1 billion people who still lack access to electricity around the world, nearly 600 million live in sub-Saharan Africa, with the vast majority in rural areas.

“The proportion of the billion that lives in sub-Saharan Africa is increasing,” said Rachel Kyte, chief executive of Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL), a body set up by the UN.

“Within Africa, some countries are going faster than others, but those that aren’t going fast are going to get left behind because you need that electricity ... you need that clean energy for the urban growth and economic development they all want,” she said in an interview.

Some African countries, such as Kenya and Ethiopia, are setting a good example, said Kyte, who also serves as the UN secretary-general’s special representative on energy access.

Others — especially those mired in conflict and political instability, or emerging from war — are falling behind, shunned by investors as tough places to do business, she said.

They include countries like Central African Republic and Sierra Leone.

CLOSING THE GAP

Governments, energy businesses and development experts will gather in Lisbon at a two-day forum organized by SEforALL, which opens tomorrow, to discuss ways to close the gap in making sustainable, affordable energy available to everyone.

A set of global development goals includes key energy targets to be met by 2030: ensuring universal access to modern energy, increasing substantially the share of renewables used and doubling the rate of improvement in energy efficiency.

However, data shows rates of progress are still too slow to meet the targets, with poor, marginalized people set to suffer most as a result of that shortfall, experts say.

Kyte gave examples of those most likely to be overlooked: a woman running a household in a rural community where men have left to seek work in the city; a disabled family head living in an urban slum; or an indigenous nomad in Mongolia or the Sahel.

Such households may be the hardest to reach using the traditional method of connecting homes to the power grid — but there are alternatives, Kyte said.

THINKING SMALL

“With mini-grids, micro-grids or off-grid systems, those people are reachable, and they are reachable with clean energy and they are reachable affordably,” she said.

Governments of countries doing badly on energy access need to set national targets, invest in infrastructure, and tackle corruption, Kyte said.

Even for the poorest states or those emerging from conflict, “prioritizing energy access is a real value-for-money approach to take, because lots of other things happen,” she added.

Switching from polluting fuels such as kerosene and diesel to solar power can improve people’s health, help children study and allow small businesses to flourish, experts say.

“Distributed energy” solutions — small-scale systems that operate independently of the main grid and are often powered by renewables — can be built quickly and nimbly in difficult situations, Kyte said.

They are also suitable for use in and around camps for refugees and displaced people, where failure to provide solar lamps or efficient cooking stoves can lead to deforestation.

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