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Nick Hurd is senior adviser to Bboxx and former UK Minister for International Development and Climate Change & Dr Priti Parikh is associate professor at UCL and co-author of a recent report, “Off-Grid Energy and Economic Prosperity. Evidence on the relationship between off-grid electricity access and local economic well-being in sub-Saharan Africa”
The impact of COVID-19 on sub-Saharan Africa’s economy has been acute. Growth contracted last year and the economy will likely not return to pre-pandemic levels until after 2022.
As the G7 and others line up to express their solidarity, governments should be focused on ending energy poverty. It is widely understood that access to energy is a major accelerator of economic development. The last 18 months have exacerbated some hard truths about the inequality of energy access, with those without access being hardest hit. Despite progress to date, sub-Saharan Africa continues to exhibit the lowest levels of electrification globally.
Off-grid energy as the great equaliser
The frustration is that we have the tools to end energy poverty now. Investment in the grid is essential but we do not have to wait decades for the grid to reach remote communities. African governments can harness the power of distributed energy to leapfrog traditional models and connect their citizens to electricity and economic opportunity.
Off-grid solar home systems and mini-grids are proving their ability to provide communities with reliable, affordable and clean energy. The impact on lives is extraordinary. Studies in Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Mozambique have all found access to off-grid solar has increased household income. In East Africa, it has been found that a quarter of customers use off-grid energy to enhance their business and generate more income.
Over half a million jobs are expected to be created by 2022 from this sector alone, underlining its potential to underpin economic resilience, support green economic recovery and reduce inequality in a post COVID-19 world.