Superbowl blackout shines light on energy poverty

As we watched what must have been the Super Bowl director’s worst nightmare unfold, it was easy to forget that half-a-billion people in Africa never have power.


Photo credit: CNN

For about five hours on the night of the Super Bowl, the only thing to be found on every social media platform was a discussion of the Super Bowl and Beyoncé. The Super Bowl’s monopoly on the entire US population was no more evident than during the 35-minute power outage in the Super Dome and the Internet brouhaha that it spawned.

You could practically hear the disbelief, confusion and exclamations of every household across the US as our television screens went black and the Super Dome went dark. Did Beyoncé’s megawatt half-time performance overwhelm the circuits? Did Jim Harbaugh bribe someone to pull the plug? Was it the Illuminati? These hypotheses and many more blew up online and on our TVs as the sports commentators struggled to fill the time.


Cookstoves. Photo credit: National Geographic

This power failure was so unusual for all who experienced it, that it has been dubbed one of the oddest moments in Super Bowl history, even outshining the infamous Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson incident of 2004. CBS immediately displayed a running timer of the blackout, as the backup power generators engaged and lights began to return to the stadium.

For that 35-minute period, the entire country was fascinated by this blackout, watching from the edge of their seats (or from the kitchen while acquiring more snacks) as the Super Dome slowly came back to life.

However, while for us, such a power outage is an anomaly, nearly 7 in 10 people living in sub-Saharan Africa have never had access to electricity or modern energy sources.  This energy poverty severely hampers services like health and education, and profoundly limits economic development. – Without affordable access to proper lighting and reliable modern power the fact is businesses cannot grow, jobs cannot be created and poverty cannot be eliminated.

Current predictions are not encouraging either – by 2030, 655 million people in sub-Saharan Africa, or 48 percent of the population, will still not have electricity.  This lack of energy access in Africa is economically and morally unacceptable.

Fortunately political momentum is beginning to build around addressing this energy poverty. Many governments, businesses, investors and academics are beginning to come together to strategize around the tools needed to light up Africa. We at ONE are supporting this and with your support, we will be working with our leaders to ensure that soon access to modern energy isn’t the exception in sub-Saharan Africa but the norm.

So as we rehash the Super Bowl around office water coolers today, feel free to mention Beyoncé’s killer halftime performance and the clever commercials. But don’t forget to analyze the blackout either, because while a 35 minute power outage in the Super Dome incited a national frenzy here in the US, there are 589 million people in Africa for whom a lack of electricity is a daily occurrence and we need to do something about that.

Learn more about energy poverty here