By Ciku Kimeria
Reflections on The World Economic Forum on Africa
Under the theme “Achieving Inclusive Growth Through Responsive and Responsible Leadership”, a thousand global leaders from the private and public sector who are helping to shape the continent’s future gathered in Durban this past week for The World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa. Discussions ranged from ending famine, to addressing the problems of apartheid in South Africa, and highlighting innovations that are transforming people’s lives across the continent. One such innovation that took center stage was off-grid and decentralized energy solutions.
This year, Dalberg hosted two events on “off-grid societies”. These events, part of an ongoing series celebrating 10 years of Dalberg on the continent, were a chance to shape discussions on solutions for off-grid societies.
“Off-grid” – as the term is commonly used – refers to the over a quarter of the world’s population who are unable to access to energy through traditional infrastructure. In sub-Saharan Africa, 65% of the population has no access to electricity. While access to reliable electricity is crucial to unlocking economic opportunities, it is vital that we holistically consider the lack of infrastructure that limits these communities from reaching their full potential. Dalberg is helping define a new concept on “off-grid societies” that looks beyond energy access, and instead focuses on societies that do not have access to 20th century infrastructure, such as roads, bank branches, hospitals, and schools.
Finding solutions to reach these unconnected populations is extremely important if we are to achieve truly inclusive growth. Current efforts to create infrastructure to reach off-grid societies continue to lag behind population growth. For example, even with increasing investments in renewable energy, the International Energy Agency estimates that the creation of mini-grids can at best supply electricity for about 40% of the world’s un-electrified population. Creating effective solutions for off-grid societies often require us to devise new business models and leapfrog technologies that require formal infrastructure, such as phone networks or roads, to function.