Power to More People
Tuesday, July 10, 2012
Africa may be about to get a whole lot more power.
For years, nonprofits have worked to make lighting available and affordable to Africans who aren’t connected to a power grid. But they’ve managed to help only a tiny percentage of that population, mainly by selling them inexpensive kerosene lamps.
Now, some of the world’s biggest energy companies are thinking on a much grander scale. They’re conducting projects to test the viability—and marketability—of solar-powered systems to provide electricity for lighting and other purposes in villages all over Africa.
The companies are aiming to sell the systems to governments and nonprofits, which could use them to provide power to villages at a discount or for no charge. The systems cost less than it would to expand traditional power grids—offering a relatively swift, economical way to boost living standards.
The pilot programs have improved people’s lives. And the market potential is enticing to the energy companies: Some 600 million people in Africa live without reliable access to electricity, according to the International Finance Corp., a division of the World Bank. The big question is how willing governments and nonprofits will be to invest in solar systems.