Green Energy for the Poor
Thursday, September 10, 2015
An innovative business model combining solar power and cellphones is electrifying parts of rural Africa that are far from the grid.
It’s called M-KOPA. The “M” stands for “mobile,” and “kopa” means “to borrow.” The company’s customers make an initial deposit, roughly $30, toward a solar panel, a few ceiling lights, and charging outlets for cellphones — a system that would cost about $200. Then they pay the balance owed in installments through a widely used mobile banking service, based on how much energy they use. The solar units are cheaper and cleaner than kerosene, the typical lighting source, and once they’re fully paid for after about a year the electricity is completely free. More than 200,000 homes in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda use M-KOPA’s solar systems.
Creative, bottom-up solutions like M-KOPA are emerging across Africa and the developing world. Scaling them, and quickly, is the challenge. Around 1.3 billion people worldwide still lack access to electricity, including two out of three sub-Saharan Africans. An enormous divide exists between the global rich and the global poor, from energy access and technology to wealth and infrastructure. But the divide is not immutable, and momentum for solutions to bridge it are emerging from all over the world.
Later this month, the United Nations will aim to take another important step to close that gap by agreeing on Sustainable Development Goals, including goals on ending extreme poverty and ensuring adequate access to energy. It is important that the word “sustainable” has been given a prominent place in the agenda, because while many global trends are going in the right direction, one is certainly not: the climate. Without acting onclimate change, we risk undermining the development gains that we have achieved so far and widening the gap between the rich and the poor. The economic growth we have seen to date will be unsustainable in the face of increasing climate disasters.
Climate change hits the poorest people the hardest. The poor are more likely than the rich to live in places vulnerable to climate-related weather events and more frequently suffer from diseases that can be exacerbated by climate change. The World Health Organization predicted last year that in 2030 climate change will lead to 48,000 additional deaths due to diarrhea, 60,000 from malaria, and 95,000 from childhood undernutrition. The vast majority of these will take place in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.