How to bring affordable, sustainable electricity to Africa | Rose M. Mutiso

How to bring affordable, sustainable electricity to Africa | Rose M. Mutiso


So right now, nearly
one billion people globally don’t have access
to electricity in their homes. And in sub-Saharan Africa, more than half of the population
remain in the dark. So you probably all know
this image from NASA. There’s a name for this darkness. It’s called “energy poverty,” and it has massive implications
for economic development and social well-being. One unique aspect of the energy
poverty problem in sub-Saharan Africa — and by the way, in this talk
when I “energy,” I mean “electricity” — one thing that’s unique about it is there isn’t much legacy
infrastructure already in place in many countries of the region. So, for example, according to 2015 data, the total installed electricity capacity
in sub-Saharan Africa is only about 100 gigawatts. That’s similar to that of the UK. So this actually presents
a unique opportunity to build an energy system
in the 21st century almost from scratch. The question is: How do you do that? We could look back to the past
and replicate the ways in which we’ve managed to bring
stable, affordable electricity to a big part of the world’s population. But we all know that that has
some well-known terrible side effects, such as pollution and climate change, in addition to being
costly and inefficient. With Africa’s population set to quadruple
by the end of the century, this is not a theoretical question. Africa needs a lot of energy,
and it needs it fast, because its population is booming
and its economy needs to develop. So for most countries,
the general trajectory of electrification has been as follows. First, large-scale
grid infrastructure is put in place, usually with significant
public investment. That infrastructure then powers
productive centers, such as factories,
agricultural mechanization, commercial enterprises and the like. And this then stimulates economic growth, creating jobs, raising incomes and producing a virtuous cycle that helps more people
afford more appliances, which then creates residential
demand for electricity. But in sub-Saharan Africa,
despite decades of energy projects, we haven’t really seen these benefits. The energy projects have often
been characterized by waste, corruption and inefficiency; our rural electrification
rates are really low, and our urban rates could be better; the reliability of
our electricity is terrible; and we have some of the highest
electricity prices in the whole world. And on top of all of this, we are now facing the impacts of
the growing climate catastrophe head-on. So Africa will need
to find a different path. And, as it turns out,
we are now witnessing some pretty exciting disruption
in the African energy space. This new path is called off-grid solar, and it’s enabled by cheap solar panels, advances in LED and battery technology, and combined with
innovative business models. So these off-grid solar products
typically range from a single light to home system kits
that can charge phones, power a television or run a fan. I want to be clear: off-grid solar is a big deal in Africa. I have worked in the sector for years, and these products are enabling us
to extend basic energy services to some of the world’s poorest, raising their quality of life. This is a very good
and a very important thing. However, off-grid solar will not solve
energy poverty in Africa, and for that matter, neither will a top-down effort
to connect every unserved household to the grid. See, I’m not here to rehash
that played-out “on-versus-off-grid” or “old-versus-new” debate. Instead, I believe that our inability
to grapple with and truly address energy poverty in Africa stems from three main sources. First, we don’t really have
a clear understanding of what energy poverty is,
or how deep it goes. Second, we are avoiding
complex systemic issues and prefer quick fixes. And third, we are misdirecting
concerns about climate change. Combined, these three mistakes are leading
us to impose a Western debate on the future of energy and falling back on paternalistic
attitudes towards Africa. So let me try and unpack
these three questions. First, what exactly is energy poverty? The main energy poverty targeted indicator is enshrined in the UN’s Seventh
Sustainable Development Goal, or SDG 7. It calls for 100 percent
of the world’s population to have access to electricity
by the year 2030. This binary threshold, however, ignores the quality, reliability
or utility of the power, though indicators
are currently being developed that will try and capture these things. However, the question of when
a household is considered “connected” is not quite clear-cut. So, for example, last year
the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared all of the villages
in India electrified, the criteria for electrification being a transformer in every village
plus its public centers and 10 percent — 10 percent —
of its households connected. Meanwhile, the International Energy Agency,
which tracks progress against SDG 7, defines energy access as
50 kilowatt hours per person per year. That’s enough to power
some light bulbs and charge a phone, perhaps run a low-watt TV or fan
for a few hours a day. Now, providing entry-level access
is an important first step, but let’s not romanticize the situation. By any standard, a few lights
and not much else is still living in energy poverty. And what’s more, these energy poverty
indicators and targets cover only residential use. And yet, households account
for just about one quarter of the world’s electricity consumption. That’s because most of our power
is used in industries and for commerce. Which brings me to my main point: countries cannot grow out of poverty
without access to abundant, affordable and reliable electricity
to power these productive centers, or what I call “Energy for Growth.” As you can see from this graph, there’s simply no such thing
as a low-energy, high-income country. It doesn’t exist. And yet, three billion people in the world currently live in countries without
reliable, affordable electricity — not just to power their homes
but also their factories, their office buildings, their data centers and other economic activities. Merely electrifying households
and microenterprises cannot solve this deeper energy poverty. To solve energy poverty, we need to deliver reliable,
affordable electricity at scale, to power economy-wide job creation
and income growth. This need, however, bumps
against an emerging narrative that, faced with climate change, we all need to transition
from large, centralized power systems to small-scale distributed power. The growth of off-grid solar in Africa — and let me repeat,
off-grid solar is a good thing — but that growth fits nicely
into this narrative and has led to those claims that Africa
is leapfrogging the old ways of energy and building its power system
from the ground up, one solar panel at a time. It’s a nice, solicitous narrative,
but also quite naïve. Like many narratives
of technological disruption, often inspired by Silicon Valley, it takes for granted the existing systems
that underpin all of this transformation. You see, when it comes
to innovating and energy, the West is working around the edges
of a system that is tried and tested. And so all the sexy stuff — the rooftop solar, the smart household devices,
the electric vehicles — all of this is built on top of a massive
and absolutely essential grid, which itself exists within
a proven governance framework. Even the most advanced
countries in the world don’t have an example of an energy system
that is all edges and no center at scale. So ultimately, no approach — be it centralized or distributed,
renewable or fossil-based — can succeed in solving energy poverty without finding a way to deliver
reliable, affordable electricity to Africa’s emerging industrial
and commercial sectors. So, it’s not just lights
in every rural home. It’s power for Africa’s cities
that are growing fast and increasingly full
of young, capable people in desperate need of a job. This in turn will require
significant interconnectivity and economies of scale, making a robust and modern grid a crucial piece of any
energy poverty solution. So, our second mistake is falling
for the allure of the quick fix. You see, energy poverty exists within a complex socioeconomic
and political context. And part of the appeal
of new electrification models such as off-grid solar, for example, is they can often bypass the glacial pace
and inefficiency of government. See, with small systems you can skip
the bureaucracies and the utilities and sell directly to customers. But to confront energy poverty, you cannot ignore governments,
you cannot ignore institutions, you cannot ignore the many players
involved in making, moving and using electricity at scale, which is a way to say that when it comes
to providing energy for growth, it’s not just about
innovating the technology, it’s about the slow and hard work
of improving governance, institutions and the broader macroenvironment. OK, so this is all good and nice, you say. But what about climate change? How do we ensure a high-energy
future for everyone while also curbing our emissions? Well, we’ll have to make
some complex tradeoffs, but I believe that
a high-energy future for Africa is not mutually exclusive
to a low-carbon future. And make no mistake: the world cannot expect Africa
to remain in energy poverty because of climate change. (Applause) Actually, the facts show
that the opposite is true. Energy will be essential for Africa
to adapt to climate change and build resilience. You see, rising temperatures will mean
increased demand for space cooling and cold storage. Declining water tables will mean
increased pumped irrigation. And extreme weather and rising sea levels
will require a significant expansion and reinforcement of our infrastructure. These are all energy-intensive activities. So balancing climate change
and Africa’s pressing need to transition to a high-energy future will be tough. But doing so is nonnegotiable;
we will have to find a way. The first step is broadening
the terms of the debate away from this either-or framing. And we also must stop
romanticizing solutions that distract us from the core challenges. And let’s not also forget that Africa
is endowed with vast natural resources, including significant renewable potential. For example, in Kenya, where I’m from, geothermal power accounts
for half of our electricity generation, and with hydro being
the other major source, we are already mainly powered
by renewable energy. We also just brought online
Africa’s largest wind farm and East Africa’s biggest solar facility. (Applause) In addition, new technology means that we can now
run and design our power systems and use energy more efficiently than ever, doing more with less. Energy efficiency
will be an important tool in the fight against climate change. So in closing, I’d just like to say that
Africa is a real place with real people, navigating complex challenges
and major transitions, just like any other region of the world. (Applause) And while each country and each region has its social, economic
and political quirks, the physics of electricity
are the same everywhere. (Laughter) (Applause) And the energy needs of our economies are just as intensive as those
of any other economy. So, the expansion
of household electrification through a mix of
on- and off-grid solutions has had an incredible impact in Africa. But they are nowhere near sufficient
for solving energy poverty. To solve energy poverty, we need generation of electricity
from diverse sources at scale and modern grids to power
a high-energy future, in which Africans can enjoy
modern living standards and well-paying jobs. Africans deserve this, and with one of every four people
in the world projected to be African by the year 2100, the planet needs it. Thank you. (Applause)

100 COMMENTS

    Why do blacks reproduce so frequently without an organized, responsible, well thought out plan to feed & clothe their children?

    I agree they should develop but with the backdrop of climate change we cannot afford any population to quadruple to a quarter of the world's population. If that happens there is no way to make it sustainable.

    Maybe you should go tell the africans, we already have power here. We already pay for enough foreign bullshit, were not paying for africas energy gtfo.

    Not to steal the topic… But…Think of Iran where despite humongous oil wealth, people have to die paying to feel their gas tank or even worst, surfing the web!
    BTW what about that larger dark zone in your map, also called Russia?
    So be happy Africa with your purely dark unpolluted night sky.

    Personally, I didn't like this TedTalk because the speaker is too "grave", she speaks like the fault is of the citizens of Europe, UK or US and not of UN or whatever big company of electricity.

    And, furthermore, I'd like to add a note at what she said: "[…] Africa needs electricity, and needs it fast.", sweetheart, you know that we are facing a massive problem? A global one? What should we concentrate on: Africa's problems or on the irreversibile consquences of the Climate Change?
    Of course, she did a good job mentioning the issue (no doubt), but speaking with that little and obnoxious note of hatred against the audience is non-sense.

    Nearly every station used to record the temperature for official records has been moved at least once over the past century with several having 3 or more distinct moves.

    Oh please… another hoax… Africa has everything it needs.. i travel there regulary.. leave those people alone..
    Solve your own sh it first
    From Spain

    Jesus christ if the world would share technology these talks on this topic wouldn't even exist. We are a slave race not only to ourselves but no wonder ets dont even give a damn

    But we are told that exponential growth is bad for the planet. I’ve paid in more than enough over decades, and get nothing free.
    Africa is better off staying as it is. When you start showing the smallest improvement in living standards. The government will start taxing it off you in hundreds of different ways.
    Africa needs to stay away from the western economic model if they want to keep their way of life.

    Quit electing corrupt officials. If Africa made their energy private with only enviormental regulations you would see power available to everyone within a year.

    I think its so interesting the comments saying that the African continent should get itself together and figure out. Well, maybe Europe and America should have built itself alone instead of using african slaves too, but we know that didn't happen. It's time to fix the mistakes of the past and help create a just world for everyone.

    Every home, business and covered parking rooftop should be solar panel covered making nearly everything we do solar powered, empowering everyone as their own electricity and vehicle solar ''gas'' station companies.

    A million tribes who'd rather hack each others babies to death rather than forming well functioning societies together will never be able to get anywhere.
    P.S massive corruption doesn't help either..

    The solution for energy, clean water, and sanitation is a functional and productive society not run by corrupt leaders supported by foreign powers who are sucking the countries dry of resources.

    Make your government build infrastructure, and stop driving out the people who know how to run it. Same with the farmers who know how to grow food, stupid people who can't run their country and resist culture crying about not having.

    The corruption in South African government is EPIC from the TOP down where utilities are concerned: Clean air, clean water, energy, internet, mail, etc.. Most of the world will not do business with South Africa because of its well-earned tainted reputation. Remediate government and watch healthy growth begin!

    We've taken care of African countries long enough. It's time for them to develop into something. Feed yourselves.

    Edit: When she says "WE", she means save us Western Nations because we are clueless.

    Don't ignore solar panels. Windmills. Water power. Even bicycle power generation and gravity lights. . Small-scale projects–millions of them, even while you're expanding your larger scale infrastructure. –Africa was raped by imperialists. You're at least a hundred years behind the West and now have to solve the problems of a 1.3 billion people.

    I think non-africans get this wrong we don't need your money to give us a quick fix to our problems, no we need education to help in making lasting solutions. I am Zambian and right now we get like 6hrs of electrification a day in my area from 23PM to around 5AM mostly we lose it before 5…… But give my government money to deal with problems that they don't understand and really you just making them more corrupt than they already are….. They will pocket these moneys and solve these problems for their own households. I blame our school systems and our belief systems that don't inspire us to think rather give us easy but rather ridiculous answers to big questions and problems.

    Climate change is not about climate. its about politics. Coal would be your best choice and its plentiful. If we are going to feed the planet we will need much more co2 to grow the crops. There does not exist a scientific formula that shows temperature has anything to do with co2. If there was don't you think it would be presented to the world to end this silly debate.

    give them power and now we will start having call centers of africans telling us the irs is after us and we need to send them hundreds of dollars lol

    Fossil fuels and nuclear are affordable and sustainable for the next 1000 years. We keep finding more and more stock piles and new ways to get at ancient organic hydrocarbons. And certainly over the next 1000 years the additional CO2 will be a God send to plant life and food production. The little bit of warming that CO2 contributes will also be welcomed, although its more likely earth will transition into yet another cooling period and the little bit of extra CO2 humans add on top of 10x amount of CO2 that Mother Nature already produces is not likely to slow down the next "little ice age".

    Over population,and corruption you said it Lady that's the start of the African problem ,theft is why many countries wont invest in Africa ,small sun driven units are available at very low cost however villages don't seem to be interested WHY ,because they want every thing for nothing and if given a system free of charge wont maintain the system ,that's your real problem Lady.

    this video is title "how to power africa" i dont see the how part discussed in the video at all? She talks about problems but offers no solutions not even theoretical ones.

    Great idea. Please remember tho, that in the Zulu language there us no word for maintenance. Good luck with that Africa.
    Maybe get some smart people to keep it going

    It's simple. Ask White People to do it. Or just send millions of African refugees to Europe and the United States. Oh wait, that's already happening. Then they get to call us RACISTS and throw children off of mall balconies. What an awesome deal!

    Hello TED! First I wanted to congratulate you on your video. It’s
    just great! You mix originality and quality that gives an extraordinary
    rendering. Sincerely continues! just a word: NICE !!! Some people don’t
    necessarily have the courage to do what you did, they give up before the first
    difficulty they encounter on their way… Except that you went to the end, it’s
    beautiful! I empathize and I support you enormously in your future achievement.
    The script, the direction, the editing: it’s very long, I know! I myself have a
    Youtube channel where I made a clip (a cover revisited of Perfect by Ed
    Sheeran), like you, it is full of originality! I sincerely invite you to watch
    it and thank you very much in advance! I would be very pleased to share my
    video. I put the link and wish you a good viewing (don’t hesitate to share it
    as much as possible on the networks, thank you very much 😊 ) :  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5F2IVx2gQAo

    Bring back the British. Africa has had nothing but technological regression since they left. Warlords, ebola, AIDS, lack of water, lack of education, lack of infrastructure…

    So solar power? Cost a lot to build, lasts apx 20 years before replacing is needed, very bad for the environment one of the worst, land clearing, reflected light can kill birds, long term is a very bad investment go nuclear power far cleaner, cheaper, better output

    Everyone is overlooking the fact that artificial light is interfering with the natural day/night patterns of plants and animals. Instead of electrifying the entire world, we should move people to central electrified cities and leave surrounding areas untouched.

    Great talk. The needs of industry are indeed often forgotten in Africa's electricity discussion, which is incomprehensible since industrial development is an essential part of any country's development as a whole. Off-grid is a great solution for remote households, in places where building and maintaining a grid would be too expensive, but there needs to be some stable power infrastructure as well, for areas with higher population density, more industry, and opportunity for growth.

    If only Africa had more mosquito nets, then every year we could save millions…

    Of mosquitos from dying needlessly of AIDS

    Some nuclear fission in terms of SMRs would really be the low-carbon reliable and cheap energy source that Africa needs.

    The ted talk is good and all but are we just gonna ignore that according to the first image australia was darker than africa

    According to David Wilcock the US Navy has recently (26 September 2019) published a patent for a FREE ENERGY compact fusion reactor (United States Patent Application 20190295733).

    Whatever plan u got, u just need 1 country to get it done for u, CHINA

    NVM, here comes the mainstream media, n they're callin China modern colonist.

    Where r they from BTW? Oh, just ur former Colonist power, why r they standing around instead of helping u out or chipping in a little bit?

    Interesting!

    How cheap can you make a solar steam engine? A container of water, 300 magnifine glasses from a dollar store, the engine hand made, the magnetic energy maker maybe purchased. A way to track the light so the magnafine glasses so they are focused in burn mode. Some times inventions define countries? The car, the air plane. There is a lot of desert land that could be utilized. And also some small ideas get passed by. You may wish to pass by the invention but the idea is right.

    What nonsense. The ANC in South Africa destroyed ESKOM through mismanagement and theft. Africa will remain a $h1Thole forever – it is the nature of the continent.

    I had a theory when building the tomb in pyramids the used mirrors to shine light down the corridors as torches would suffocate the workers. I wonder if some science magic was a parabolic mirror the burned humans shone over their the emperors head. ok the parabolic human bbq is a bit much but the mirrors have substance.

    It's insane how Africa has the most valuable resources in the world housed in her yet in 2019 the world is still discussing how can we give the source which is Africa a sustainable power source! It's sad how mankind hasn't truly reached its full potential in all this time!

    Maybe direct the focus of the issue also at the overpopulation and population growth? If those esitmates are correct, Africa's population at the end of the century is more than half of the current world population. That is NOT sustainable by any technology we currently have.

    Oh such a powerful and important talk! I really hope that they are able to learn from mistakes made in the west, make a more efficient grid system and keep control out of the hands of the billionaires and in the hands of the people of Africa.

    Built the dams in Ethiopia and ingadams.we shd called on all AFRICANs in diaspora to invest.imstead of talking with our enemies.

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