Acting on Climate, Reducing Poverty, Powering Africa

December 8, 2015
This 500-watt solar system provides clean power for a home, a public broadcasting system, a barbershop and a video hall in a rural village in Uganda. [Photo courtesy of Sameer Halai, SunFunder]

This month’s meeting of world leaders, NGOs, civil society groups and other advocates at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris comes at a time when upwards of a billion people on our planet lack access to reliable electricity. Nearly half live in Africa.

In sub-Saharan Africa, only a third have access, which means severe limits on health care, education and economic opportunities for more than 600 million men, women and children.

Addressing this challenge will require an intensive effort to build and upgrade energy infrastructure, as well as add additional energy to the grid and increase the number of people that have access to energy — and to do this in a way that reduces or eliminates the typical energy-related drivers of climate change.

Power Africa and USAID are taking action on climate–and tackling extreme poverty–by working with our partners in African governments and the private sector to stimulate investment in clean energy solutions.

Clean Power for Africa

Africa boasts incredible clean energy opportunities, and the potential for growth in the African renewable energy sector is tremendous. According to the new Climatescope report, sub-Saharan countries have attracted over $25 billion for renewable energy projects, doubling their renewable energy capacity in 2014 to over 4 gigawatts.

Since our launch, Power Africa has successfully mobilized significant investments in renewable technologies throughout the continent, helping to diversify energy portfolios and accelerate Africa’s transition toward thriving, low-carbon economies.

For example, Google is investing in what will be Africa’s largest wind farm, a renewable energy project Power Africa helped enable. The Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) signed a $400 million agreement with Power Africa partner SolarReserve to help develop a 100-megawatt clean solar energy facility in South Africa. And one of Power Africa’s newest partners, Nova-Lumos, with financing from OPIC, is scaling up its business to bring renewable and reliable power to millions of Nigerians who live and work beyond the grid.

Our aim is to build cleaner, more climate-resilient power sectors that serve all people — including women, who play key decision-making roles in the household but have traditionally been sidelined from the energy industry.

Reaching Beyond the Grid

Among the most exciting ways that USAID and Power Africa are connecting homes and businesses to clean energy is through off-grid and small-scale renewable power projects. Power Africa’s Beyond the Grid sub-initiative, launched in June 2014, is working to unlock investment and growth in off-grid energy and electricity access projects across the African continent. To date, Power Africa has funded off-grid companies and projects expected to provide over 1 million new connections.

Beyond the Grid’s current portfolio includes over 100 projects that range from solar lanterns to solar rooftop systems, mini-hydro to micro-grids, and everything in between. For example, several mini-hydropower projects are in development in Tanzania, and our team at the U.S.-Africa Development Foundation (USADF) is supporting solar mini-grids and a solar lantern franchise that is accessible to Tanzanian women entrepreneurs.

In Ethiopia, USADF is working on an innovative financing scheme for solar home systems. In Rwanda, an incredible 8.5 megawatt, grid-connected solar PV system has been installed at the Agahozo Shalom Youth Village, which is home to children orphaned by genocide.

Plus, Power Africa’s off-grid partners are providing more than light and power — they’re stimulating an entire market and creating thousands of jobs through their distribution and servicing networks. It’s proof that positive climate action can be positive economic action.

Improving Lives, Protecting the Planet

President Obama’s vision for Power Africa is to apply a new model of development to improve lives and energize economies. This approach is focused not just on aid, but also on trade through connections and partnerships with businesses and investors.

In fact, Power Africa now has more than 100 private sector partners, as well as commitments from over a dozen U.S. Government agencies, the World Bank, the African Development Bank, the Government of Sweden, the European Union, the African Union and the United Nations’ Sustainable Energy for All.

With the help of our partners, we are achieving our goals. We’ve already helped advance projects that are expecting to generate over 4,100 megawatts of new and cleaner electricity, and we’re tracking and often facilitating projects that could bring another 20,000 megawatts for people and communities across sub-Saharan Africa.

Power Africa exemplifies how critical partnership is to lead by example on climate change. We hope for positive outcomes from the conference in Paris, and look forward to a more sustainable and prosperous future for Africa and the world.

About the Author: Andrew Herscowitz is Coordinator for Power Africa
Editor's Note: This blog originally appeard on the USAID Impact Blog.
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