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Mobile phones provide a useful insight for energy: not that you can leapfrog a modern power system, but that most energy use happens out of sight. In fact, less than 1% of the energy needed for a smartphone is used by the phone.
While energy advocates have mostly focused on the 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa that lack access to electricity at home, the region’s power shortages are especially damaging to firms. Companies across the continent suffer from unreliable power supplies, affecting productivity, employment, and growth.
Eighteen months ago, we blogged here about Kenya’s superfast electricity connection rate. The country had grown from 27 percent to 55 percent access in just three years, putting themselves on a fast-track toward near universal access by 2020. While this lightning progress was exciting, new research suggests that aggressive expansion may come with downsides, too.
On July 30, Zimbabweans will vote for the first time ever without Robert Mugabe on the ballot. Even before election day, there are very serious concerns about the validity of the vote. Vanguard Africa’s Jeffrey Smith and I wrote in the Mail & Guardian about eight reasons to worry, including poll manipulation, voter intimidation, interference by the military, and more. In totality, these problems already skew the outcome so greatly that they likely have already invalidated the vote.
In the push for electricity access in the developing world, many policymakers are trying to figure out where on-grid or off-grid solutions make the most sense. My new paper asks 39,000 consumers in 12 African countries about their energy use and demand. The big takeaway: African consumers don’t view grid versus off-grid as a binary question.
Sometime around 2045, Nigeria’s population will pass the United States in size. Nigeria isalready the world’s most under-powered country in the world relative to its income—nearly 80 percent below global trends. As large as the power gap is today, what will Nigeria’s electricity generation capacity look like in 30 years?
Events are in tremendous flux in Zimbabwe after the non-coup committed by the military last week and the resignation of President Robert Mugabe on November 21. It’s not too early for the international community to start considering constructive steps to help the country get through the inevitable transition and back on a path to democracy and prosperity.
Are some countries too poor to consume a lot more energy? Or is income growth being held back by a lack of reliable and affordable electricity? While there is a strong relationship between energy consumption and income, the direction of causality is often far less clear. One way to estimate unmet demand may be to try to compare pairs of countries—e.g., how much additional energy does Kenya need to reach the level of Tunisia?