The Battle to End Energy Poverty

Comments Off on The Battle to End Energy Poverty
The Battle to End Energy Poverty

A rich economy depends on a rich supply of energy. There's no better example than the United States. America's unparalleled economic growth since the dawn of the 20th century has depended on cheap electricity.

The massive power plant that Henry Ford built at the Rouge factory enabled his company to produce every part of the Model T on the first modern assembly line. The widespread adoption of electrical appliances in the home freed up women to join the workforce—and millions of businesses, from US Steel to the latest Silicon Valley startup, have flourished without having to worry about whether the lights would go out.

At the same time, cheap, reliable electricity has improved Americans' quality of life and extended their lifespans. The building out of the electrical grid enabled Americans to heat and cool their homes, refrigerate and cook food, use clean water for drinking and bathing, and enjoy the benefits of better health through advances in nutrition and hygiene.

In the U.S., with its abundant supply of energy, the average lifespan is 79. In China, where the average lifespan was only 59 in 1968, the increasing access to electricity is tightly linked to the rise in the average lifespan to 75, today.

Meanwhile, in Africa, where only 24 percent of Africans have access to electricity, the average lifespan is just 59. Clearly, improving the energy infrastructure in Africa would help to bring about healthier, longer lives, just as it did in the U.S. and China.1

Currently, most Africans, Indians and Pakistanis live in rural villages, where they cook food over indoor fires by burning wood and dung. According to the World Health Organization, indoor air pollution causes two million premature deaths, one million cases of lung disease, and 50 percent of pneumonia deaths among small children every year.

In Africa's cities, power is so unreliable that the average business loses power for the equivalent of two months per year. To keep the lights on, many African businesses have to rely on generators, which are three times as costly as power from the grid. Those generators run on diesel fuel that fills the air with black soot, which causes lung disease.

So it is only logical to assume that if African nations had better power, their businesses and citizens—and by extension their economies—would benefit just as China did. That's the reasoning behind such recent efforts as the World Bank's Africa Electrification Initiative, a program that aims to double the amount of electricity available to Africans by 2030.

But not everyone agrees. Environmentalists who want to reduce carbon dioxide emissions because of fears of global warming see the electrification of Africa not as an opportunity to lift millions of people out of poverty, but as a threat to the health of the planet...

To continue reading, become a paid subscriber for full access.
Already a Trends Magazine subscriber? Login for full access now.

Subscribe for as low as $195/year

  • Get 12 months of Trends that will impact your business and your life
  • Gain access to the entire Trends Research Library
  • Optional Trends monthly CDs in addition to your On-Line access
  • Receive our exclusive "Trends Investor Forecast 2015" as a free online gift
  • If you do not like what you see, you can cancel anytime and receive a 100% full refund