SEATTLE — The Power Africa initiative launched in 2013 by President Obama, seeks to expand access to electricity across Sub-Saharan Africa. Power Africa was strengthened in the U.S. Congress by the February 2016 passage of the Electrify Africa Act. Continued support for these efforts and further investment in Africa’s energy sector will not only expand access to electricity but will also drive development in Sub-Saharan Africa.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, two out of three people live without access to electricity. Power Africa and the Electrify Africa Act are working to decrease this statistic by installing at least 30,000 additional megawatts of electrical power by 2020 and promoting renewable sources of energy.
In East Africa alone, more than 350,000 people are now using solar panels for home lighting. The push towards solar power provides evidence that renewable energy can help achieve the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of universal electricity by 2030.
The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), a USAID partner in Power Africa, predicts that continued commitment to energy innovation will yield a 60 percent decrease in costs of producing electricity over the next 20 years.
Studies by the World Bank recommend a series of steps to make electricity affordable to the general public. Among these recommendations is an increased tariff on large and medium sized consumers as a means of sharing the initial burden for low-income households. Additionally, installing prepaid meters can help low-income households pay for electricity in small increments, rather than in one lump sum, again reducing financial burdens.
Energy innovation has the power to stretch progress and development in Sub-Saharan Africa far beyond its primary goals. Providing electricity in business places allows workers to be more productive, electricity in homes allows children to study longer, and electricity in health care facilities increase the number of people able to access medical care. Energy innovation also enables improved agriculture and water access. These positive consequences will help progress Sub-Saharan countries towards achieving multiple SDGs.
Commitment to strengthening the renewable energy sector marks progress towards the SDG of affordable and clean energy. Investing in this sector can additionally create jobs, promoting the work of SDG and economic growth. Worldwide, the energy sector, and particularly the renewable energy sector, is creating millions of jobs.
More than 8.1 million people worldwide are currently employed in renewable energy, with a five percent increase since 2015. However, in Sub-Saharan Africa, only 45,000 jobs exist within the renewable energy sector. Strengthening investment in Africa’s energy sector is creating jobs throughout Sub-Saharan Africa.
Mobisol, for example, is a USAID partner in Power Africa working to both invest in Kenya and create jobs throughout the country. While Mobisol is investing in electricity expansion across Kenya, the company is also investing in training to prepare Kenyans for the rise of solar and renewable power.
Creating more jobs in energy contributes to yet another SDG, promoting gender equality. Supporting Power Africa and the Electrify Africa Act, USAID’s Engendering Utilities program is working to increase the presence of women and girls in the energy sector.
Globally, the energy sector ranks last in gender diversity across corporate boards. Empowering girls to pursue careers in energy could reduce these inequalities and contribute to a more thriving industry. Studies show that in other major global industries, gender diversity has a positive impact on productivity and sustainable growth. Furthermore, increasing the presence of women on boards can enrich and innovate company ideas and create more comprehensive solutions to problems and challenges.
Power Africa and the Electrify Africa Act have begun to light the way for sustainable growth and development in Sub-Saharan Africa. Ambitions of expanding access to electricity across the region will spur growth in jobs, innovation, and gender equality. Maintaining commitment to the programs under these initiatives will be beneficial to the U.S. and foreign companies, and begin to empower the people of Africa and drive more out of poverty.
– McKenna Lux