by Tripp Brockway and Raj Salhotra
Only ten percent of Mozambique’s population has access to the country’s electricity grid. Without electricity, subsistence farming is less viable, students cannot study at night, and hospitals cannot store vaccines. The lack of power is a drag on Mozambique’s economic development and an obstacle to improving the well-being of its people.
But this is not another clichéd story about how the West must save Africa from poverty. Instead, it is a story about how to provide electricity, in an environmentally and economically intelligent manner, to the 85% of people in rural sub-Saharan Africa who lack it. It is a story about how to leverage efficiently local knowledge and resources. It is a story about innovation, a story from which the developed world can learn.
In 2009, Jason Morenikeji started The Clean Energy Company in Mozambique. Morenikeji’s company provides small-scale, off-grid renewable energy along Mozambique’s “wind-strong” coastline. The company focuses on the design, construction, and installation of micro wind turbines that can be tailored to fit local needs and combined with other renewable energy sources, such as solar photovoltaics (PV).
By manufacturing the micro-turbines locally, Morenikeji’s company creates jobs and lifts people out of poverty. This is one of many ways that independent electricity generation, particularly from renewable sources, can be crucial for addressing the challenges of socio-economic development such as education, food security, and health.
Independently-powered micro-grids can provide lighting for students to study at night. Studies have found an almost two-year difference in education levels between children in electrified households as compared to those in homes without power. A good education gives students the skills necessary to achieve stable employment and higher income.
Decentralized energy can be used to refrigerate food. This is especially important since poor food preservation can cost developing countries 25-50% of their crop-yield, reducing food security and preventing farmers from maximizing their income. According to the FAO:
“One of the major contributory factors responsible for the economic non-viability of farming areas is the farmer’s inability to handle and store food efficiently so that he can sell good quality produce when it is scarce and commands a high price.”
Independent power sources can also provide electricity to rural hospitals, allowing for the storage of medicine and the operation of life-saving equipment. For example, vaccines require refrigerated storage, which demands reliable electricity. Moreover, the health of a country’s population is highly correlated with GDP per capita, and this relationship is stronger in low-income, developing nations.
Independent power sources that allow for distributed generation can be a cost-effective substitute for countries that lack adequate grid infrastructure and centralized power plants. And unlike the grid systems of the developed world, independently produced power relies on clean renewable energy instead of dirty fossil fuels.
Economics dictate that small, off-grid communities should produce electricity from micro renewable sources rather than the economically-volatile diesel or the traditionally-bulked coal. Distributed solar generation, for example, is between 1/10 and 1/4 the cost of diesel generators. Distributed generation offers rural communities a financially efficient means of electricity generation.
For a country like Mozambique, utilizing renewable energy makes sense. Micro wind turbines, solar PV, and biodiesel generators can provide electricity to remote locations. Communities can use this electricity to improve their economy and quality of life. Jason Orenikeji’s innovative company proves that independent, renewable energy production is an economically viable and environmentally sustainable solution to rural poverty.
– by Tripp Brockway and Raj Salhotra