Africa’s Electric Power Gap. The innovations closing it.

Humanity has never before had such resources, knowledge, and technology at its disposal — yet it is a long way from translating those advances into decent lives for all the world’s people. We believe that innovation by businesses large and small can play a central role in closing that gap and solving the world’s challenges. Africa’s shortage of electric power is one of the greatest such challenges, and the push to electrify the continent provides inspiring examples of entrepreneurial solutions.

A few numbers show just how far Africa has to go in power generation. Electricity consumption per person in large African countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya, and Nigeria is less than one-tenth that of Brazil or China. In poorer countries such as Mali, a typical household uses less electricity in a year than a Londoner uses to boil a kettle each day. And nearly 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa lack access to electricity altogether — with the result that whole communities literally live half their lives in the dark.

The power gap imposes high economic costs, too. As Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, president of the African Development Bank, put it to us: “Energy is like blood in the life of an economy — it is the key to getting businesses to work, whether you’re in the banking sector, the agricultural sector, or mining sector.” When we surveyed executives running businesses in Africa, one-third said their companies generate their own electrical power or have backup generators on-site. Generator-based power costs three to six times what grid consumers pay across the world.

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