Sub-Saharan Africa’s lack of electricity is hindering development but this can be reversed if countries turn to ambitious, large-scale renewable energy projects, an environmental think-tank suggests.

The region — home to 41 per cent of the world’s energy-poor people, with 65 per cent of primary schools and 30 per cent of health centres having no access to electricity — faces an energy crisis that development models are not addressing, according to a report by the Green Alliance.

“Even with robust economic growth, [the region’s] existing energy infrastructure is a brake on progress. With population growth continuing to outstrip electrification, the number of people without energy access is only projected to grow,” say the authors. “This has significant implications for development, with impacts on health, education and household economy. Disproportionate amounts of time and income are spent securing energy by other means, such as gathering wood, which also has detrimental impacts on the natural environment.

Low carbon, decentralised energy can reach communities much faster than expanding existing, inefficient central grid systems. And it offers immediate improvements to people’s lives. Projections for achieving universal energy access in sub-Saharan Africa acknowledge this potential and assume that just over half the provision will need to be mini and off-grid solutions. Such options will also be more resilient in the face of climate changes.”

The study was launched as the Labour party pledged to back clean power for Africa. Chuka Umunna MP, the shadow business secretary, said: “The green economy presents huge opportunities for dynamic and innovative British businesses to export overseas and increase energy access in regions such as sub-Saharan Africa through renewable technology. We are clear that Britain must be a world leader in the low-carbon economy. This is key to growing the high-skilled, better-paid jobs we need as well as powering development across the globe that benefits all.”

“Yes, there is still poverty, disease and conflict in Africa. But the fact is that in the last 15 years, the African continent has been fired by the spirit of progress. We can see it in the technology hubs of Lagos and Nairobi, the successes in fighting diseases, the number of kids going to school, the burgeoning, emerging middle classes. Consider Nigeria, with its population of 170 million. It currently has the same grid power as Bradford — a city of half a million people. As Nigeria makes those investments, there will be lots of opportunities for British businesses. So we need to wake up to what is happening in Africa.”

— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2014

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