The Second Obama Administration Should Close Africa's Energy Poverty Gap

Editor's Note: This chapter is part of the 2013 Foresight Africa full report, which details the top priorities for Africa in the coming year. Read the full report here.

Highlights

  • Nearly 7 out of every 10 Africans have no access to modern electricity; 8 out of 10 lack access to clean cooking stoves. 
  • Reaching universal energy access by 2030 would require $48 billion a year in global investment (about 3 percent of global energy investment), yet only $9 billion is being invested per year in closing the energy gap.
  • The World Health Organization estimates that almost 4,000 people per day die prematurely each year from household air pollution from biomass cooking.
  • In Nigeria, 97 percent of large firms rely on (costly, inefficient and polluting) diesel generators to provide nearly two-thirds of their power, while almost half of all firms operating in sub-Saharan Af­rica own or share a generator.  The economic returns to modern electricity could be huge for African economies.

Nearly 600 million Africans face energy poverty, the in­ability to cook with modern cooking fuels and a lack of mini­mum lighting for productive activities at sunset.  This energy gap impacts a variety of health, education and economic outcomes:  Vaccines cannot be properly refrigerated, girls are pulled out of school to collect firewood, and small businesses cannot expand because of energy limitations.

As the Obama team considers a policy legacy for Africa during its second term starting in 2013, Todd Moss and Stephanie Majerowicz explain how a strong U.S. commitment to close the energy poverty gap in Africa can benefit the global economy.  With strategic interventions, the U.S. could address this energy poverty gap while at the same time create markets and increase investments for American businesses.  If the White House leverages private investment by rationalizing U.S. government tools, such as the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, and engages proactively with African environmental powers, the U.S. could make a significant contribution to accomplishing this achievable goal.