South Africa’s reliance on coal is an old one, stemming from the mid-1800s. And yet, in 2016, we’re still forging ahead with new, enormous coal-fired power stations that are similar relics.
And so, 150-odd years after we started our addiction to coal power, 14.6% of South Africa still lacks access to electricity — that’s over 7 million people, and over 600 million in Sub-Saharan Africa are in the same situation.
People talk about connecting electricity-lacking people to the grid. But in many cases, the national grid is outdated, expensive to maintain, and even more expensive to expand to new and remote areas where these people sometimes live.
In these disconnected areas, smoke from polluting and inefficient cooking, lighting, and heating devices kills an estimated four million people a year and causes a range of chronic illnesses and other negative health impacts. These emissions are also important drivers of climate change and local environmental degradation.
Enter renewable energy and the microgrid:
By using small solar power systems either on their own or as part of a decentralised microgrid, people across Africa have been able to light up homes, business, schools, churches, and hospitals, without the need for extensive infrastructure and other costly requirements.
And with that access to electricity, comes all the benefits that those buildings provide: children are able to study under solar lights at night, people are able to enjoy better health care, and some even open up solar-powered businesses.
Here our some of our favourite ways we’ve seen renewable energy empowering people where fossil fuels have failed:
- The Maasai women who are leading a solar revolution
- Say hello to East Africa’s first solar-powered bus
- Solar Classroom in a Box doesn’t look like much, but is transforming schools in Africa
- There’s a place in the world that is fighting poverty with solar power
It’s taken centuries for coal to deliver nothing but climate change to millions of people in Africa. Now it’s time to break free from fossil fuels, make a just transition to a renewable energy future, and get sustainable access to electricity for all our fellow Africans.