Energy Poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa

In Uganda, a country I visit frequently, the electric power situation is not good.  Much of the citizenry has no electricity, and those with line-power have frequent blackouts.  According to a recent article by Bryan Walsh in Time magazine (16 Sep 2013):

For the 1.3 billion people around the world who lack access to electricity, darkness is a reality.  There is no electric light for children to do their homework by, no power to run refrigerators that keep perishables or needed medicine cold, no power for cooking stoves or microwaves.  What light they have mostly comes from the same sources that humans have relied on forever–firewood, charcoal or dung–and the resulting smoke turns into indoor pollution that contributes to more than 3.5 million deaths a year.

This dire situation in developing countries is referred to as energy poverty.  And the lack of electricity results in two additional ills for areas like sub-Saharan Africa, including:

  • schools with no fans or air conditioners, no computers, and no lights for evening classes
  • major constraints on developing viable commercial and industrial enterprises.

Luckily, the issue has started to receive a little illumination (pun intended).  This summer, President Obama announced his Power Africa initiative which promises to provide more than $7B over the next 5 years to bring electricity to 20 million households.  But unfortunately the electrification process is much bigger than $7B, but at least it’s a start.

The organizations that I travel with in Uganda (SeeeMe and Interethnic Health Alliance) are installing small 12-VDC solar energy systems in primary schools.  And solar is looking increasingly attractive as the cost of solar panels continues to drop and as battery technologies continue to improve.  While solar, wind, and hydro power have great potential, they cannot solve all of the problem.  There will still be a need for fossil-fuel-generated electricity.

Image if you can, living on the equator where it is dark for almost half of a 24-hour day, year around.  The darkness makes studying, working, cooking, and playing difficult.

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This entry was posted in pollution, Social Justice, Technology, uganda. Bookmark the permalink.

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