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For the 600 million Africans living without access to electricity, help may be on the way. Governments, nonprofits, and businesses across the globe are increasingly looking for ways to provide electricity access throughout Africa.
On June 19, the U.S. Government’s development finance institution, Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), approved a $50 million investment for GEF Africa Growth Fund. The African Growth Fund aims to build and improve energy infrastructure across Sub-Saharan Africa, which will makes energy and agribusiness production more efficient. Specifically, the fund targets clean energy production and distribution, as well as focusing on energy efficient technologies.
Private companies are also getting involved in increasing Africans’ access to electricity. These companies, such as Phillips Electronics, Dupont, and Siemens, are experimenting with pilot projects that provide solar-based electricity to small villages throughout Africa. Most of these projects provide electricity free of charge to African villages. For example, in Lomshyo, South Africa, residents can recharge batteries for their LED ceiling lamps by using rooftop solar panels—free of charge—rather than buying kerosene for lamps when their energy source runs out. This enables them to use the money they once spent on kerosene to purchase other basic necessities, such as food, shelter, and clothing.
The ultimate goal of these companies is to sell solar energy infrastructure to national governments and nonprofits in Africa, who would then provide power to villages at a minimal price. Solar-based systems are appealing to governments and nonprofits because they increase access to energy at a lower cost rather than expanding traditional power grids. In that sense, access to energy, which increases living standards, can be done more efficiently with solar-based electricity systems.
The longevity of these pilot programs is uncertain. However, the participation thus far by nonprofits and governments is encouraging companies to engage in these type of programs. South Africa, for example, supports solar companies by guaranteeing to buy their output at a favorable price.
In terms of the number of people with access to electricity, Africa (42%) still lags far behind developing Asia (81%), Latin America (93%), and the average for developing countries world-wide (75%), but recent investment by governments, companies, and nonprofits is encouraging. If efforts continue, many more Africans may soon have access to electricity.