Saturday, March 8, 2008

Lighting Up Africa

If you are interested in global economic inequity, this picture from a recent article in The Economist might strike you as it struck me. The article begins:

Seen from space, Africa at night is unlit—as dark as all-but empty Siberia. With nearly 1 billion people, Africa accounts for over a sixth of the world's population, but generates only 4% of global electricity. Three-quarters of that is used by South Africa, Egypt and the other countries along the north African littoral.

Only 17 of Nigeria's 79 power stations are working. Yet Nigeria is an oil exporting country.

Only 6% of Congolese have access to electricity. Yet the mighty Congo River has the potential to produce 39,000MW of electricity by environmentally clean hydro power. That would require capital investment, however, and it seems that neither country that goes by the name Congo (yes, there's two of them now--one on either side of the river) has a good reputation for protecting investments.

These cases are typical. Yet ever more people are leaving the villages for the cities, adding to the strain. (The Economist writer reported several power outages in the course of writing his story in Dar Es Salaam.)

So is anything good happening?
Lilliputian windmills, water mills, solar panels and biomass furnaces could have a big collective impact.

Talk of the mass production of biofuels in Africa is premature, but advances have been made. Some investors are backing jatropha, a plant whose seeds produce an oil for burning in generators. There is also an effort to tap geothermal energy. The Great Rift Valley, from Eritrea to Mozambique, could produce 7,000MW. Kenya hopes to get 20% of its energy from geothermal sources by 2017.

Engineers think they can also use the steady winds in Africa's mountain ranges for power production. And if the costs of using the sun's warmth can be reduced to 30% below its present cost, vast solar farms could offer cheap, clean energy for African cities and in doing so boost incomes in rural areas. Egypt, which relies mostly on natural gas, is looking hard at solar power.
The World Bank has undertaken an initiative called Lighting Africa. We'll see how much of that is either frustrated or pillaged by local governments. Perhaps there will be some residual good.


Ymarsakar said...

As time goes on, more and more I recognize the difference between people that believe in uplifting humanity into a better situation and those that believe in keeping humanity down in the peasant/serf/slave class.

Those of us that believe in the principles of classical liberalism, favors any power, organization, or nation that not only seeks to do good but actually makes the attempt to do good.

If it takes imperialism or American military power, then that should be what it is. Without limitations, without qualifiers. What should happen concerning alleviating human suffering is "does it work". Not "does it please the Democrat party" or "does it conform to politically correct totalitarian thought".

Ymarsakar said...

Michael Totten noticed that in an Iraqi town, their market had the English sign "supermarket". For a town that had no English or Americans living in it. He saw it as indications of something close to "imperialism".

If American Imperialism is defined as the unification of the world under one language, through the business of providing everyone economic prosperity and military security, then I suppose that is an Imperialism all classical liberals can be proud of.