4 surprising things ONE learned about energy poverty

In sub-Saharan Africa, 7 out of 10 people lack access to even the most basic electricity. At ONE, we recognize that modern energy access is crucial to health, education and economic prosperity. Fortunately, there is momentum building in Washington to tackle this issue of “energy poverty” in Africa. President Obama recently announced an initiative called Power Africa and a bipartisan bill called the Electrify Africa Act is making its way through Congress.

The cold storage repository for the pneumococcal vaccine

A health worker in Langata, Kenya stores lifesaving pneumococcal vaccines in a refrigerator. If the power behind these fridges fail, the vaccines could go bad. Photo credit: Morgana Wingard. 

Since we’ve been working with policymakers and African citizens on the issue of energy poverty, we’ve learned some surprising things. Here are four.

1. There is no significant tradeoff between increasing energy access and protecting the environment. These initiatives would dramatically increase investment in renewable energy as part of a mix of solutions to provide electricity to Africans. Even today, Africa’s small energy supply has 3 times more renewable sources than the United States. Even if all 589 million people in sub-Saharan Africa currently living without power gained access to energy, global CO2 emissions would likely increase by less than 1 percent.

2. Energy access is about improving lives, not corporate bottom lines. This campaign is rooted in the fact that energy access has enormous implications for basic quality of life, such as the ability to refrigerate vaccines, study after dark, irrigate crops and power up small businesses and jobs. Governments, companies and communities all play an important role in the effort to electrify Africa.

3. The congressional bill will cost the US taxpayer almost nothing. In fact, because of the distinct role that can be played by OPIC, which invests in partnership with the private sector, these projects will pay for themselves over time and will likely bring revenue into the US Treasury.

4. The private sector cannot do it alone. The US government must be involved in order to provide technical and policy assistance, reduce risk, reduce upfront investment costs and make the projects economically viable.

See the dozens of Africans, US leaders and NGOs who signed our Statement of Principles. And stay tuned for a recap of our Electrify Africa event on Capitol Hill with OPIC President Elizabeth Littlefield. 

Now take action. Support the Electrify Africa bill by signing our petition here.