Electricity for Africa’s tomorrow

Published on Friday, 13 May 2016

“Almost all the 1,2 billion people currently lacking access to electricity live in rural or isolated areas, mostly in Asia e and Sub-Saharan Africa. We are facing a crucial challenge: we must find new ways to connect those areas where building infrastructure is impossible or too costly”. At the World Economic Forum on Africa in Kigali (Ruanda), Enel’s Communications Director Ryan O’Keeffe pointed out, in an article published on the World Economic Forum website, the fact that electricity is a key factor for the development of the world’s most disadvantaged areas.

In Sub-Saharan Africa alone, where 13 percent of the world’s population live, more than 600 million people still lack essential electricity services. According to the Powering Africa report drawn up by McKinsey, only seven countries south of the Sahara (Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Gabon, Ghana, Namibia, Senegal and South Africa) have access rates to electricity exceeding 50 percent, while in the rest of the region the average rate is barely 20 percent.

This gap, known as energy divide, hinders economic growth in these areas and gives rise to sustainability issues, forcing the communities to use polluting energy sources also to cook their food. How is it then possible to solve this problem, granting access to electricity to 100 percent of the world’s population? The answer lies in technological evolution, which allows us to generate increasingly affordable and efficient renewable energy. Additionally, sources like wind and solar power are available everywhere, solving the issue of fossil fuel shortage or of the difficulties involved in achieving a connection to the electricity grid, typical of isolated or rural areas.

O’Keeffe pointed out that renewable energy is a solution to the paradox between economic development and environmental sustainability that has limited the effectiveness of the Kyoto Protocol, highlighting the way in which the objectives of developed countries differ from those of emerging economies. Now developing nations have the opportunity to meet their growing energy needs, necessary to achieve a rapid and carbon-free industrialisation.

Thanks to investments in innovation it’s now possible to test solutions that are alternative to electricity grids, such as Liter of Light, a project in which we work with our partners to provide lighting to homes in  Kenya and South Africa, making  55W lamps out of plastic bottles. Liter of Light is only one of the various prototypes, of different technological complexity, currently under development in the entire continent.

According to O’Keeffe “for a company like Enel, there are two sides to the electrification challenge. One regards the task of acting in the interest of our shareholders. The other the duty to do all we can, using the resources available to us, to promote the development of communities that need it”.

A equation that can be solved by placing sustainability at the centre of the business model. “In order to design and develop innovative solutions, it will be essential to aim at suitable technology and the best partners. Only that way will we manage to meet a 70 percent growth in electricity demand for the 9 billion people who will inhabit the Earth in 2040”, the Director concluded.