About the Author: Mohammed Motiwala serves as an Economic Officer in the Bureau of Economic, Energy, and Business Affairs.
On September 15, the State Department's Economics and Energy Bureau (EEB) welcomed author and journalist Robert Bryce to speak on helping Africa meet its energy needs. Currently hundreds of millions of Africans have no access to electricity. And without this access, Africans are without the key prerequisite for economic development and poverty alleviation.
What's the answer to this problem? Wind farms in Angola? Solar panels in the Sahara?
Bryce doesn't think so. To him, fossil fuels remain the most realistic short- to medium-term source of steady power to a continent that is hungry for it. The problems with popular renewable energies like wind and solar is that they are intermittent, says Bryce: There is no power when the wind is not blowing or when the sun is not shining. There is also the issue of scale. Bryce noted that for a nuclear power plant to generate 2,700 MW of electricity, a land footprint the size of Manhattan would be required. To generate the same amount of power from wind would need a footprint the size of Rhode Island, and a bio-fuels plant would require an even larger one.
For longer term needs, Bryce favors nuclear power. He is particularly excited about new, small modular reactors (SMRs), which the Secretary of Energy has described as "plug and play" reactors. These SMRs, compared to traditional reactors, would have lower upfront capital costs and would potentially have few proliferation concerns.
As for the impact of fossil fuel use on climate change, Bryce says he's still undecided about the data. But he has accused developed countries of "carbon dioxide colonialism" for demanding that developing countries reduce their carbon footprint before industrializing. He says it is wrong for a country like the United States, which in many cases produces 50 times more CO2 per capita than many Africa countries, to object to funding fossil fuel projects in Africa (as it did earlier this year when South Africa applied for a loan through the World Bank).
So what do DipNote readers think? How do we work with our African partners to help them balance environmental considerations with obtaining the energy they need and deserve?