Friday, July 05, 2013

Let there be light ... on the Dark Continent

It was a clear sky last night.  No clouds.  A wonderful summer evening, with a cool breeze, that made me think that putting up with the dark, gloomy, overcast, rainy months was a very small price to pay.

I sat outside on the patio bench--a hand me down from the daughter.  Yes, I have gotten to a stage in life when I have started collecting stuff that my daughter throws out!

I looked up and could see a few stars. Imagine that--a few stars visible here in Oregon. And, despite all the urban lighting.

Over the years, I have pretty much forgotten what it feels like to to look up at a starry, starry night.  One of my most memorable ones in recent years was in Tanzania.  The small town where I was for a fortnight was not only out in the boondocks but with pretty much no electricity.  The night sky was, therefore, spectacular.

The stars above glittered way more beautifully than anything I had seen in the urban world that we humans have created.  Towards the end of the stay, we headed towards the new moon phase.  Thus, with very little lunar shine, and nothing at all from the built environment, the stars looked huge and bright.

As awesome as that was, it was also further evidence on the tremendous under-consumption of energy compared to the phenomenal over-consumption here in these United States.  As this note at the Scientific American points out, the low level of energy consumption gets reflected in the night time darkness imposed by a lack of artificial light:

The post adds:
It’s not because the continent of Africa is devoid of people. It’s because the gift of energy services hasn’t reached many of the billion-plus residents. It’s what is called “energy poverty”, that is, a lack of access to what many of consider to be the common element of modern living: electricity.
As a contrast, the American nightscape:

As African economies pick up, which we hope will happen soon, their energy consumption will also pick up, and Africans will light up their homes and streets in the night time. We would certainly want them to have that opportunity, which we take for granted here.

President Obama says the right things (but then his rhetoric is always lofty, and rarely ever matched by his actions!)
During his three country tour of Senegal, South Africa, and Tanzania, US President Obama has unveiled the Power Africa initiative, in which he has pledged $7 billion of investment over the next five years to increase energy production and access to energy across the sub-Saharan region.
The goal is to double access to electricity across six countries that Obama’s administration has selected for their promotion of good governance; Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria and Tanzania.
In case you are not convinced why addressing the energy poverty in Africa is important:
Energy poverty severely impacts health and education  prospects. Today, energy poverty leads to more premature deaths than either malaria or tuberculosis. The World Health Organization estimates that almost 4,000 people per day die prematurely each year from household air  pollution from biomass cooking. If nothing is done to address energy poverty, by 2030 this number is expected  to climb to 1.5 million per year—more deaths than will be  caused by HIV/AIDS and malaria combined (IEA, 2011).  Energy poverty also affects the provision of health services (vaccines are hard to refrigerate without electricity)  and hinders education prospects (it is hard to read in the dark without electricity and girls often get pulled out of
school to collect firewood).
Access to affordable electricity is also a major—and in many countries the very top—constraint to economic growth. Business survey data consistently point to the  cost and reliability of electricity as among the most important barriers to business expansion in Africa (Ramachandran et al., 2009). For instance, Ghana’s Valco aluminum smelter is today running at just 20 percent capacity due to a shortage of low-cost power. 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 these economies.
Where will all that energy come from?

I sure hope it won't be from coal. China and India are making it very clear for the the people there, and to the rest of the world, that not only can they not meet the demands via coal alone but, and more importantly, it creates problems in many ways.

All the more the reason to explore alternatives. Sooner the better, so that Tanzanians, too, can blog about anything and everything, especially at night, like how this blogger does thanks to the limitless electricity at his disposal.


Ramesh said...

I was more intrigued by the energy map of the US, than Africa. The US seems to be of two halves - the Eastern conference of the NBA is civilised and the Western Conference seems to be in the Dark Ages. The Great state of Oregon seems to be as bad as Africa :):):):)

There's some distance to go for Africa, for sure. By the way the Chinese must be laughing their heads off over a $ 9bn investment announcement over 6 countries. They are probably investing that much in one country.

Sriram Khé said...

Yeah, crazy that the mighty US makes a big deal out of a measly investment in a couple of African countries!
And then we wonder why we can't get more respect around the world!!!

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