U.S. to invest $1 billion in African electricity plan

The U.S. government is investing more than $1 billion to create about 20 million new electricity connections in sub-Saharan Africa as part of its Beyond the Grid Initiative.

The African continent has the world’s lowest rates of electrification, a fact that caught the attention of U.S. President Barack Obama when he visited the continent last year.  So he announced an ambitious plan to electrify 20 million households in six countries: Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria and Tanzania.

U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz visited the Ethiopian capital this week to formally launch the program.  From there, he  said even basic electricity can light up many lives.

“In villages, or rural families who have no electricity, a remarkably small amount is a life-changer.  It changes the quality of life very, very dramatically,” he said. “If you just think about what young people can do in terms of reading at night, etcetera in a safe and clean  environment . . . . So it is really across the board, and clean energy opportunities in Africa are really immense.”

The Beyond the Grid Program has pulled in more than two dozen international investors and will cost more than $1 billion.  Much of its work will go towards serving people who live off the traditional electric grid, and to investigate clean energy options like solar and geothermal power.

Officials also say the project is looking to unlock the energy potential of rising African nations like Angola, which is the continent’s second-largest oil producer, and Mozambique, which is in the midst of a natural gas boom.

U.S. Export-Import Bank Chairman Fred Hochberg said six countries have been named in the initiative, but many others will benefit, either from technical advice or from regional partnerships.

“This really covers all of sub-Saharan Africa.  The six countries have an additional degree of technical assistance and some planning engaged in those six countries,” he said. “But in no way is this initiative limited to six countries, it is across the sub-Saharan continent and many of the projects we are looking at and are more active in are in a multitude of countries.”

Hochberg said regional businesses are also likely to gain from the initiative.

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