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Powering Africa: The World Bank's initiative to connect 300 million people to electricity

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By Yariv Cohen

· 4 min read

"Electricity access is the bedrock of all development,” declared Ajay Banga, President of the World Bank Group, during a recent announcement unveiling the institution's latest initiative. Their aim? To extend electricity access to at least 300 million African individuals by 2030.

The World Bank Group has set its sights on connecting 250 million people to electricity, strongly emphasizing distributed renewable energy (DRE) as the primary solution. Complementing this endeavor, the African Development Bank Group (AFDB) has pledged support to reach an additional 50 million individuals. Together, they aspire to halve the current population in Africa that lacks electricity access, estimated at roughly 660 million.

This announcement has reverberated globally, marking a monumental undertaking necessitating an estimated $30 billion in public sector investment. Collaboration across development sectors will be paramount. The International Development Association (IDA), renowned for extending concessional loans and grants to the world's poorest developing nations, has committed $20 billion to the initiative, with the remaining $10 billion anticipated from other public sources.

As the world progresses towards achieving the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, with SDG7 centering on universal electricity access, this project emerges as a potential game-changer. However, beyond public sector investment, additional strategies will be pivotal to its success.

Collaboration emerges as the key

One such strategy entails international collaboration with private sector involvement. The unprecedented $30 billion investment underscores a profound commitment to development, highlighting the critical role of energy access in addressing various development challenges. Extensive research over the years has showcased that access to electricity is fundamental to successful development endeavors. While significant strides have been made in electrification across other regions, Africa has lagged.

For example, Asia has made remarkable progress in electrification over the past few decades, with nearly 1 billion people gaining access to electricity since 2010. In contrast, Africa remains the final frontier for global electrification, with 660 million Africans lacking access to electricity. This deficit presents significant barriers to healthcare, education, productivity, digital inclusivity, and, job creation. Moreover, current population growth rates outpace electrification rates, rendering the goal of universal connectivity seemingly unattainable.

Enter Distributed Renewable Energy (DRE) as a promising solution, offering a cost-effective and scalable approach to meet the needs of millions across the continent. Investments in Solar Home Systems (SHS), mini-grids, and Commercial and Industrial (C&I) projects are poised to play a pivotal role in achieving the set goals. However, the success of these investments hinges on collaborative efforts involving government policy action, financing from multilateral development banks, and proactive engagement from the private sector. Each component of this "golden triangle" of collaboration must act synergistically for the project to succeed. Without concerted action from all stakeholders, realizing universal electricity access in Africa will remain an elusive goal.

Electrification: A catalyst for human development

With the UN's Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7 aiming to "Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all," it is imperative to recognize the transformative effects electricity access has on individuals, households, and entire communities. Across developed nations, electricity permeates every aspect of daily life, from education to healthcare, from business to gender equality. However, in the developing world, entire communities remain in the dark, literally and figuratively.

Without electricity, children struggle to study after dark, smallholder farmers cannot effectively sort their crops, and women spend hours collecting firewood for lighting and cooking. Access to electricity fundamentally changes these dynamics. Claudine, the village leader of Juru Village in Rwanda's Kamonyi District, attests to this transformation. Half of the 118 families in Juru Village have been connected to power through DRE. Claudine proudly notes that since the village gained electricity, all the students have passed their national exams, a significant improvement from previous years. The shift from hazardous kerosene lamps to reliable electricity has not only saved money but also provided proper lighting for studying. Additionally, the newfound sense of security has expanded social interactions within the village.

Similarly, Sandrine, a resident of a nearby village, recounts how access to electricity has transformed her family's life. With a solar home system, Sandrine and her husband have more time to spend together, engage with visitors, and increase their crop yield. Their income has doubled, thanks to improved crop sorting and increased sales in the local market. Sandrine emphasizes, "We used to live in the dark. Now, there is light," encapsulating her family's remarkable transformation.

A call to action

Achieving global electrification is not a lofty aspiration; it is a crucial imperative for human development. The World Bank's ambitious goal serves as a monumental cornerstone in this journey. Now, it is incumbent upon all stakeholders, including governments, institutions, and the private sector, to fulfill their roles. Hundreds of millions are eagerly awaiting electricity access's transformative power.

illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

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About the author

Yariv Cohen is the co-founder and CEO of Ignite Power, a company providing solar-based, life-enabling, distributed solutions across Africa. Yariv has been a part of the renewable energy sphere for the past two decades, scaling innovation globally to help build a sustainable, inclusive future.

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