US Pledges to Double Access to Power in Africa

By Allie Bollman, Summer Intern

Just 5 days after President Obama announced his climate action plan for the United States, on June 30,the White House announced a new initiative that plans to double access to electricity in select countries of sub-Saharan Africa.  This initiative, Power Africa, states that it will build on the power potential of these countries, namely their newly discovered oil and gas reserves, while also developing an array of clean energy technologies.  In the “first phase,” the initiative will work with Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, and Tanzania.  The United States pledged to commit more than $7 billion over the next five years to realize this goal.

President Obama’s climate action plan states that, “it is imperative for the United States to couple [climate change] action at home with leadership internationally.”  With this goal, Power Africa could serve as the perfect opportunity to start doing just that; through helping areas in sub-Saharan Africa that lack access to power, while also trying to significantly reduce emissions and prepare for climate impacts internationally.

East Africa, the “last great frontier in the hunt for hydrocarbons,” is not a surprising choice for investment- in the past few years, oil and gas exploration has taken off in this area, as indicated by a report published by the Energy Information Administration (EIA) in late May this year, titled, “Emerging East Africa Energy.” The report focuses on the commercial development of the newly discovered natural resources in these “emerging exploration and development areas.”  The same holds true for the partner countries in western Africa, as Nigeria was the 12th largest producer of oil in the world in 2011, with 33% of their exports going to the United States, and the proved reserves in Ghana increased by 4,300% from 2010 to 2013, according to U.S. data from the EIA.  The potential of both these countries is apparent, and the proposed partnership through Power Africa would seek to develop and accelerate the energy sectors of these countries.

Ex-Im fossil fuel & renewable energy financing

While there is clear potential for expanding hydrocarbon production and use in the region, Power Africa also aims to promote the use of clean energy technologies in sub-Saharan Africa.  This initiative, and the US public sectors involved, bring to mind the 2009 settlement between two environmental groups and Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and the Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im), following accusations that both federal agencies provided financial support to overseas projects that emitted greenhouse gases, without issuing proper environmental impact statements.  They both agreed in the settlement to increase support to projects promoting renewable energy. Hopefully their involvement in Power Africa will display a positive movement towards renewable energy and a step away from fossil fuel dependence.

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