An intense debate continues on how best to provide electricity to the 1.1 billion people currently without access to it -- of whom 600 million are living in Sub-Saharan Africa, many of them in rural areas. According to a 2015 IEG evaluation, low-access countries received about 3.6 billion USD per year into the electricity sector from all sources over 2000 – 2014. The bulk of these funds has gone into extension of the traditional electricity grid. The IEG report also states that to achieve universal grid access in current low-access countries by 2030 will require over 17 billion USD per year, including about 12 billion USD per year for new transmission and distribution capacity. An additional 20 billion USD per year will be needed to address current supply inadequacies and expand generation capacity to meet growing demand. The largest share of this investment would be in Sub-Saharan Africa, given the size of the population without access and the challenges of making effective infrastructure investments there (Foster and Briceño-Garmendia, 2010).
Small but sometimes radical new steps toward greener energy and green growth are happening on our stressed planet, but we don’t hear enough about them, nor do we sufficiently explore and share policy lessons.
Examples include ‘smart grid’ R&D activities that deploy sensors to gather data on incoming electricity from wind, solar and other renewables with varying power outputs, better management of outages, factoring in the needs of electric vehicles, and installing more energy-efficient power meter usage in homes and offices. At the other end of the spectrum, Husk Power Systems, a company operating in Bihar, India has devised a novel single fuel gasifier for rural electrification based on discarded rice husks – one of India’s most common waste products. Thanks to the risk husks, 60 mini-power plants have now been installed. They power about 25,000 households in more than 250 villages in rural India.