Billions in the Dark

If you are reading this, there’s a good chance you have access to electricity; at home, work, and even on the go by using a battery in a laptop or mobile device.  Let’s face it; we take electrical power for granted. 

But we shouldn’t. 

Almost one-fifth of the world’s population, 1.4 billion people, don’t have electricity in their homes.  What’s more, the International Energy Agency estimates that by 2030, when Earth’s population will top 8 billion people, almost the same number of people will still lack electricity. Roughly 700 million of those will be Africa with about 490 million in Southeast Asia. 

Now, as in the future, that means people will rely on wood, coal, peat, or dung for heat and for cooking. That releases greenhouse gasses, which adds to global warming.  It also results in indoor air pollution, which is estimated to kill about 1.6 million people per year. 

Why are so many people still in the dark? 

Let’s use Ghana, in West Africa, as an example. At the start of the new century, Ghana’s leaders pledged to bring electricity to the northern part of the nation. Progress is made during election season but then it slows. The challenge, of course, is that it takes a lot of money to build roads and install power lines, not to mention generating capacity. Almost 80% of the world’s electrical power comes from hydropower. 

In addition to a lack of funds and unreliable governments, there’s another challenge to electrifying the globe. A report by several international agencies and led by the World Bank, says those efforts have barely kept up with population growth.  While roughly 1.7 billion more people were hooked up to the electrical grid between 1990 and 2010, the world’s population grew by 1.6 billion people in the same time period. That growth was concentrated in poor energy areas. 

The report estimates the world would need to double or triple its current spending to meet the United Nation’s goal of bringing clean and modern electricity to all people by 2030. That spending now tops about $400 billion a year. 

The numbers make the work that AEG is doing in Tanzania all the more important. 

—Frank Graff

Frank Graff is a producer/reporter with UNC-TV, focusing on North Carolina Science Now, a weekly science series that airs Wednesdays, beginning in August 2013, as part of North Carolina Now on UNC-TV. In addition to producing these special segments, Frank will provide additional information related to his stories through this North Carolina Science Now Reporter's Blog!  

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