Obama Announces Power Africa Plan To Double Electricity Access In Sub-Saharan Africa

(Credit: AP/Evan Vucci)

President Obama announced a new plan to double electricity access in Sub-Saharan Africa this weekend during his trip to Africa.

The plan, called Power Africa, will include a $7 billion pledge from the U.S., financed primarily by $5 billion in funds from the Export-Import Bank and $1.5 billion by the Overseas Private Investment Corporation. The program is also funded by $9 billion from private entities, with General Electric among the top contributors. Power Africa aims to add more than 10,000 megawatts of “cleaner, more efficient” power to a region in which two-thirds of residents lack access to electricity and expand energy access to 20 million new African households and commercial buildings.

So far, it’s unclear where exactly the power will come from — how much of it will be from renewable sources and how much from oil, natural gas and coal. Though costly, fossil fuels dominate the energy mix in Africa — in South Africa, where Obama announced the project, 93 percent of electricity comes from coal, though the country is showing rapid growth in renewable energy. The White House press release states Power Africa will build off of “new discoveries of vast reserves of oil and gas, and the potential to develop clean geothermal, hydro, wind and solar energy” in Africa. It also claims the project will “help countries develop newly-discovered resources responsibly, build out power generation and transmission, and expand the reach of mini-grid and off-grid solutions.”

Some of the funding will go specifically towards renewable energy — OPIC and the U.S. Trade and Development Agency pledged up to $20 million in grants to develop renewable energy projects, and OPIC has a cap on carbon emissions from the projects it funds, which means its additional $1.5 billion might be limited to relatively lower-emissions projects. And, though vague on specifics, Obama did mention renewable energy when announcing the project Sunday:

In partnership with African nations, we’re going to develop new sources of energy. We’ll reach more households not just in cities, but in villages and on farms. We’ll expand access for those who live currently off the power grid. And we’ll support clean energy to protect our planet and combat climate change.

Last week during his climate change address, the president spoke of the importance of putting developing nations on paths toward sustainable growth, and said that “by developing and disseminating clean technology and sharing our know-how, we can help developing nations leap-frog dirty energy technologies and reduce dangerous emissions.” Already, Africa has been hit hard by the effects of climate change, including drought and spikes in food prices. Climate change has emerged as a security threat to Sub-Saharan Africa, as water and food shortages and destruction to property and infrastructure have the potential to heighten tensions in the region.

Africa has long struggled to provide reliable power to its population of more than 1 billion — as of 2011, the installed generation capacity of Sub-Saharan Africa was just 68 gigawatts, which is about the same as Spain’s. The country suffers from frequent blackouts and interruptions in electricity service, leading many residents to rely on expensive generators. And around 70 percent of Africans aren’t connected to the power grid at all, relying instead on resources from aid programs like the World Bank’s Lighting Africa, which distributes rechargeable LED lights throughout towns and villages in Africa. But the U.S. isn’t the only country to take notice — China also recently invested several billion dollars in electricity development programs in Africa.

21 Responses to Obama Announces Power Africa Plan To Double Electricity Access In Sub-Saharan Africa

  1. Joseph Dillard says:

    Is this a boondoggle for GE? Whatever proportion will come from oil or gas will undercut the credibility of Obama’s green messaging. Looks like this is one more area in which we’re being played for suckers.

  2. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    This is just a business deal for US corporates, dressed up as philanthropy. Undoubtedly US coal will be the fuel of choice, and US companies win the bulk of construction contracts. At least it is slightly less dangerous for Africans than the machinations of Africom, busy training a new generation of military despots.

  3. fj says:

    It is difficult to believe that energy from fossil fuels is less expensive than renewables and high efficiency.

    If Obama is planning on building the future he must make it work.

  4. rjs says:

    hey, we have to have someplace to sell the coal to when we switch our electric power to fracked gas…

  5. fj says:

    Africa’s future cannot be built on fossil fuels.

  6. Mike Roddy says:

    Obama doesn’t care about the Africans, because if he did he’d be encouraging distributed solar for villages and grid electricity from solar and wind farms in the Sahara and Kalahari deserts.

    Note the money sources- GE, Eximbank, OPIC- all motivated to find export markets for American coal and LNG.

    Obama is corporate, just like the Clintons and all of the Republicans. Until someone steps away from the corporations and works for the people, nothing will change.

  7. Climate Hawk says:

    I agree with the remarks above, this is surely a dangerous corporate resource grab masquerading as philanthropy. After having read Adam Hochschild’s superb book, “King Leopold’s Ghost,” I tremble whenever westerners look to “help” Africa out. When Leopold was done, about 10 million people were dead in the Congo.

  8. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    You appear to have a fine ‘business mind’. My condolences.

  9. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Read Obama’s speech given in Ghana, during his first African excursion. It’s an eye-opener to his true character.

  10. fj says:

    Garbage in garbage out is a saying in the data world where the data is bad which applies the fossil fuel energy world as well.

  11. Chill, Mulga,

    “ris” is being sarcastic.

  12. Yes, I want to second, third and fourth everybody’s opinions on this schtick. Obama’s there representing the corpocrats — probably throwing them a bone after trouncing them (on paper at least) over domestic coal burning.

    I found this particularly revealing and disturbing —

    The White House press release states Power Africa will build off of “new discoveries of vast reserves of oil and gas, and the potential to develop clean geothermal, hydro, wind and solar energy” in Africa.

    So a wealthy western power wants to get in on “vast reserves of oil and gas…” This is news?

  13. Raul M. says:

    With sea level rise and the growth of the Sahara, Sub-saharan Africa is getting smaller. Another reason for clean energy to become the reasonable choice for power. No waiting for long lines at the power plant. Save your money, buy solar, the sun is powerful, have some.

  14. Superman1 says:

    “Power Africa will build off of “new discoveries of vast reserves of oil and gas”. This is consistent with his recent climate speech HOW?

  15. fj says:

    Smart microgrids and clean renewable energy is the modern, most cost effective, climate resilient . . . , way to go.

    Anything else is a sham ripoff and must be stopped.

  16. fj says:

    Coal has to be mined

    Then delivered

    Then burned to create electricity as a major cause of climate change and air pollution.

    From what I understand something like two thirds of that electrical energy is lost transmitting it to remote users; losses, capital and ongoing costs, etc., largely eliminated with distributed solar and smart microgrids.

  17. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    So was I. I was attempting to feed off his sarcasm. I was aiming for ‘mordant’.

  18. fj says:

    . . . for distributed highly resilient net zero systems.

  19. fj says:

    African economies dependent on fossil fuels is no different than dependency on big tobacco as well.

  20. fj says:

    By 2050, one billion people are projected to die from smoking.