Africa Gets Its Power Back
By Robert Holcomb MD, Ph.D., Inventor and Co-Founder of Holcomb Energy Systems
As much of the world looks to spend billions modernizing aging power grids, the continent of Africa finds itself in a moment of opportunity: Almost half the population has no power. No grid to overhaul could present an ideal opportunity for emissions-free clean electricity, generated right where it’s being used.
Imagine if the continent of Africa could model an actual Green New Deal, in which universal, affordable clean electricity was guaranteed along with limitless career opportunities, at a fraction of the cost of what developed nations are budgeting to update their grids.
That’s not how the Continent looks today. While 78% of Africans live in urban areas, just 28% of rural inhabitants have access to electricity.
The history of Africa is largely one of extraction. Over hundreds of years, the most devastating loss to the Continent was its most valuable asset — its own people, captured and shipped to foreign lands as slaves. Later, colonial empires swooped in to strip the Continent of valuable natural resources, including diamonds, sugar, gold, iron, cobalt, uranium, copper, bauxite, petroleum, cocoa beans, tropical timer and fruit.
For all of Africa’s copious indigenous assets, its returns have been unconscionably meager. Today, Africa is the poorest continent on the planet. One in two people in sub-Saharan Africa are living below the poverty line. A recent report by the International Energy Agency found that 43% of the Continent — some 600 million people — do not have access to electricity. That number has increased since the devastation wrought by the global pandemic and soaring energy prices attributed to the Ukraine war. Indeed, some 25 million more people are living without electricity than just three years ago.
The time is right for Africa to get its power back — literally and figuratively — and the Holcomb Energy System could play a major role in that transition.
Shocking Lack of Electricity
In west and central Africa only three countries are on track to universal electrification by the end of the decade. At that torpid pace, 263 million people will still be left in the dark. Consider this: Countries with affluent economies consume an average of 6,000 kilowatt hours per year — that’s an unweighted mean of Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Japan. Compare that to Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Ethiopia, Guinea, Niger, Somalia, and South Sudan, at around 50 kilowatt hours per year — just 1% the consumption rate, the equivalent to a 60 watt lamp being turned on for just 2 hours a day over one year.
On the Raw End of the Fossil Fuel Deal
Perhaps the real cruelty is that Africa is facing more severe fallout from climate change than other parts of the world, while contributing the least to the problem. The entire continent of Africa contributes just 3% to the world’s energy related CO2 emissions — the lowest per capita rate anywhere in the world. Yet Africans are already suffering severe effects, with the UN calling West Africa a climate change hotspot hitting the most vulnerable the hardest, with millions affected by drought, food insecurity, stress on water resources and mass migrations.
And here’s the kicker: the cost to fully electrify Africa is but a pittance of global energy expenditures. The IEA reported that universal electrification on the Continent would cost just $25 Billion a year for 10 years — equal to the cost of one LNG terminal. By deploying the Holcomb Energy System, that cost would be even less.
Righting Historical Wrongs And Saving the Planet in the Process
The Continent of Africa is a window to the soul of humanity. Africans are running out of time — the urgency of their situation, and that of the planet, cannot be overstated. Time is rapidly running out to change course and ensure a habitable planet. While renewables are becoming more affordable, battery storage is still an issue — the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow. Updating old power grids to accommodate fluctuating loads is a challenge, as advanced economies are discovering.
In Africa, historical deficits could be secret assets. Rural areas have no crumbling grid to modernize, while cities could serve as magnets for manufacturing opportunities. The Holcomb Energy System requires no grid infrastructure. It can operate anywhere, even in the middle of the Sahara, providing 100% zero carbon footprint power to any size load, using no fuel. And because it operates with no moving parts, there’s no heat and no wear and tear, so it requires very little maintenance. The HES can also operate in substations along the power grid, feeding additional power when it’s needed, backing off when it’s not.
What if Africa could catapult ahead of the rest of the world in the manufacture and distribution of totally clean, point of use, zero emissions electricity — not from fossil-fuel based extraction, but in the production and deployment of an entirely new, clean power source along with employment opportunities that lift up communities, countries and economies.
Africa’s empty slate may very well be its winning advantage in the world’s race for survival.