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  • So right now, nearly one billion people globally

  • don't have access to electricity in their homes.

  • And in sub-Saharan Africa,

  • more than half of the population remain in the dark.

  • So you probably all know this image from NASA.

  • There's a name for this darkness.

  • It's called "energy poverty,"

  • and it has massive implications for economic development

  • and social well-being.

  • One unique aspect of the energy poverty problem in sub-Saharan Africa --

  • and by the way, in this talk when I "energy," I mean "electricity" --

  • one thing that's unique about it is

  • there isn't much legacy infrastructure already in place

  • in many countries of the region.

  • So, for example, according to 2015 data,

  • the total installed electricity capacity in sub-Saharan Africa

  • is only about 100 gigawatts.

  • That's similar to that of the UK.

  • So this actually presents a unique opportunity

  • to build an energy system in the 21st century

  • almost from scratch.

  • The question is: How do you do that?

  • We could look back to the past and replicate the ways

  • in which we've managed to bring stable, affordable electricity

  • to a big part of the world's population.

  • But we all know that that has some well-known terrible side effects,

  • such as pollution and climate change,

  • in addition to being costly and inefficient.

  • With Africa's population set to quadruple by the end of the century,

  • this is not a theoretical question.

  • Africa needs a lot of energy, and it needs it fast,

  • because its population is booming and its economy needs to develop.

  • So for most countries, the general trajectory of electrification

  • has been as follows.

  • First, large-scale grid infrastructure is put in place,

  • usually with significant public investment.

  • That infrastructure then powers productive centers,

  • such as factories, agricultural mechanization,

  • commercial enterprises and the like.

  • And this then stimulates economic growth,

  • creating jobs, raising incomes

  • and producing a virtuous cycle

  • that helps more people afford more appliances,

  • which then creates residential demand for electricity.

  • But in sub-Saharan Africa, despite decades of energy projects,

  • we haven't really seen these benefits.

  • The energy projects have often been characterized by waste,

  • corruption and inefficiency;

  • our rural electrification rates are really low,

  • and our urban rates could be better;

  • the reliability of our electricity is terrible;

  • and we have some of the highest electricity prices in the whole world.

  • And on top of all of this,

  • we are now facing the impacts of the growing climate catastrophe head-on.

  • So Africa will need to find a different path.

  • And, as it turns out, we are now witnessing

  • some pretty exciting disruption in the African energy space.

  • This new path is called off-grid solar,

  • and it's enabled by cheap solar panels,

  • advances in LED and battery technology,

  • and combined with innovative business models.

  • So these off-grid solar products typically range from a single light

  • to home system kits that can charge phones,

  • power a television

  • or run a fan.

  • I want to be clear:

  • off-grid solar is a big deal in Africa.

  • I have worked in the sector for years,

  • and these products are enabling us to extend basic energy services

  • to some of the world's poorest,

  • raising their quality of life.

  • This is a very good and a very important thing.

  • However, off-grid solar will not solve energy poverty in Africa,

  • and for that matter,

  • neither will a top-down effort to connect every unserved household

  • to the grid.

  • See, I'm not here to rehash that played-out "on-versus-off-grid"

  • or "old-versus-new" debate.

  • Instead,

  • I believe that our inability to grapple with and truly address

  • energy poverty in Africa

  • stems from three main sources.

  • First, we don't really have a clear understanding

  • of what energy poverty is, or how deep it goes.

  • Second, we are avoiding complex systemic issues

  • and prefer quick fixes.

  • And third, we are misdirecting concerns about climate change.

  • Combined, these three mistakes are leading us to impose a Western debate

  • on the future of energy

  • and falling back on paternalistic attitudes towards Africa.

  • So let me try and unpack these three questions.

  • First, what exactly is energy poverty?

  • The main energy poverty targeted indicator

  • is enshrined in the UN's Seventh Sustainable Development Goal,

  • or SDG 7.

  • It calls for 100 percent of the world's population

  • to have access to electricity by the year 2030.

  • This binary threshold, however,

  • ignores the quality, reliability or utility of the power,

  • though indicators are currently being developed

  • that will try and capture these things.

  • However, the question of when a household is considered "connected"

  • is not quite clear-cut.

  • So, for example, last year the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi

  • declared all of the villages in India electrified,

  • the criteria for electrification being

  • a transformer in every village plus its public centers

  • and 10 percent -- 10 percent -- of its households connected.

  • Meanwhile,

  • the International Energy Agency, which tracks progress against SDG 7,

  • defines energy access as 50 kilowatt hours per person per year.

  • That's enough to power some light bulbs and charge a phone,

  • perhaps run a low-watt TV or fan for a few hours a day.

  • Now, providing entry-level access is an important first step,

  • but let's not romanticize the situation.

  • By any standard, a few lights and not much else

  • is still living in energy poverty.

  • And what's more,

  • these energy poverty indicators and targets

  • cover only residential use.

  • And yet, households account for just about one quarter

  • of the world's electricity consumption.

  • That's because most of our power is used in industries and for commerce.

  • Which brings me to my main point:

  • countries cannot grow out of poverty without access to abundant,

  • affordable and reliable electricity to power these productive centers,

  • or what I call "Energy for Growth."

  • As you can see from this graph,

  • there's simply no such thing as a low-energy, high-income country.

  • It doesn't exist.

  • And yet, three billion people in the world

  • currently live in countries without reliable, affordable electricity --

  • not just to power their homes but also their factories,

  • their office buildings, their data centers

  • and other economic activities.

  • Merely electrifying households and microenterprises

  • cannot solve this deeper energy poverty.

  • To solve energy poverty,

  • we need to deliver reliable, affordable electricity at scale,

  • to power economy-wide job creation and income growth.

  • This need, however, bumps against an emerging narrative that,

  • faced with climate change,

  • we all need to transition from large, centralized power systems

  • to small-scale distributed power.

  • The growth of off-grid solar in Africa --

  • and let me repeat, off-grid solar is a good thing --

  • but that growth fits nicely into this narrative

  • and has led to those claims that Africa is leapfrogging the old ways of energy

  • and building its power system from the ground up,

  • one solar panel at a time.

  • It's a nice, solicitous narrative, but also quite naïve.

  • Like many narratives of technological disruption,

  • often inspired by Silicon Valley,

  • it takes for granted the existing systems that underpin all of this transformation.

  • You see, when it comes to innovating and energy,

  • the West is working around the edges of a system that is tried and tested.

  • And so all the sexy stuff --

  • the rooftop solar,

  • the smart household devices, the electric vehicles --

  • all of this is built on top of a massive and absolutely essential grid,

  • which itself exists within a proven governance framework.

  • Even the most advanced countries in the world

  • don't have an example of an energy system that is all edges and no center at scale.

  • So ultimately, no approach --

  • be it centralized or distributed, renewable or fossil-based --

  • can succeed in solving energy poverty

  • without finding a way to deliver reliable, affordable electricity

  • to Africa's emerging industrial and commercial sectors.

  • So, it's not just lights in every rural home.

  • It's power for Africa's cities that are growing fast

  • and increasingly full of young, capable people

  • in desperate need of a job.

  • This in turn will require significant interconnectivity

  • and economies of scale,

  • making a robust and modern grid

  • a crucial piece of any energy poverty solution.

  • So, our second mistake is falling for the allure of the quick fix.

  • You see, energy poverty exists

  • within a complex socioeconomic and political context.

  • And part of the appeal of new electrification models

  • such as off-grid solar, for example,

  • is they can often bypass the glacial pace and inefficiency of government.

  • See, with small systems you can skip the bureaucracies and the utilities

  • and sell directly to customers.

  • But to confront energy poverty,

  • you cannot ignore governments, you cannot ignore institutions,

  • you cannot ignore the many players involved in making, moving

  • and using electricity at scale,

  • which is a way to say that when it comes to providing energy for growth,

  • it's not just about innovating the technology,

  • it's about the slow and hard work of improving governance, institutions

  • and the broader macroenvironment.

  • OK, so this is all good and nice, you say.

  • But what about climate change?

  • How do we ensure a high-energy future for everyone

  • while also curbing our emissions?

  • Well, we'll have to make some complex tradeoffs,

  • but I believe that a high-energy future for Africa

  • is not mutually exclusive to a low-carbon future.

  • And make no mistake:

  • the world cannot expect Africa to remain in energy poverty

  • because of climate change.

  • (Applause)

  • Actually, the facts show that the opposite is true.

  • Energy will be essential for Africa to adapt to climate change

  • and build resilience.

  • You see, rising temperatures will mean increased demand for space cooling

  • and cold storage.

  • Declining water tables will mean increased pumped irrigation.

  • And extreme weather and rising sea levels will require a significant expansion

  • and reinforcement of our infrastructure.

  • These are all energy-intensive activities.

  • So balancing climate change and Africa's pressing need

  • to transition to a high-energy future

  • will be tough.

  • But doing so is nonnegotiable; we will have to find a way.

  • The first step is broadening the terms of the debate

  • away from this either-or framing.

  • And we also must stop romanticizing solutions

  • that distract us from the core challenges.

  • And let's not also forget that Africa is endowed with vast natural resources,

  • including significant renewable potential.

  • For example, in Kenya, where I'm from,

  • geothermal power accounts for half of our electricity generation,

  • and with hydro being the other major source,

  • we are already mainly powered by renewable energy.

  • We also just brought online Africa's largest wind farm

  • and East Africa's biggest solar facility.

  • (Applause)

  • In addition,

  • new technology means that we can now run and design our power systems

  • and use energy more efficiently than ever,

  • doing more with less.

  • Energy efficiency will be an important tool

  • in the fight against climate change.

  • So in closing, I'd just like to say that Africa is a real place with real people,

  • navigating complex challenges and major transitions,

  • just like any other region of the world.

  • (Applause)

  • And while each country and each region

  • has its social, economic and political quirks,

  • the physics of electricity are the same everywhere.

  • (Laughter) (Applause)

  • And the energy needs of our economies

  • are just as intensive as those of any other economy.

  • So, the expansion of household electrification

  • through a mix of on- and off-grid solutions