By Anders Lorenzen
The Trump Administration has made yet another attempt to promote fossil fuels through Energy Secretary Rick Perry.
According to the Washington Post, the former Texas Governor said that using fossil fuels to power electricity can help villages in Africa and other developing regions. He explained that during a recent visit to Africa, a young girl had told him electricity was important to her because otherwise, she had to read by the light of a fire producing noxious fumes.
He then went on to say “of how you really affect people’s lives, fossil fuels … play a role in that. I happen to think it’s going to play a positive role.” Perry is keen to stress that fossil fuels can be a force for good and help development, thus attacking the narrative advanced by environmentalists that fossil fuels are harmful and cause climate change.
Let’s look at those claims.
Perry is actually right to claim that electricity is good and necessary for development, and having access to electricity is a key to this. It means that people avoid having to use toxic kerosene lighting, and it has been shown to have profound health and educational benefits.
But where Perry’s comments go completely off the rails is where he argues that the solution is fossil fuels. If we look at African countries, successive governments have failed to deliver access to electricity and failed to create grid infrastructure to rural off-grid communities. One could go even further and say that fossil fuels have failed to deliver and that governments and energy companies have not shown any interest in electrifying the continent.
It is, in fact, clean energy technologies like solar which stand a much better chance of supplying electricity to off-grid communities, reducing reliance on toxic kerosene and therefore introducing many benefits to health, education and development. The beauty of solar is that you don’t need to rely on grid infrastructure to supply communities with clean and ppollution-freeelectricity.
And it is happening already. Led by charities such as Solar Aid, which works to provide off- grid communities with subsidized solar lights, and which means that communities no longer need to rely on kerosene lighting. It also offers the potential for mobile phone charging, so that villagers do not have to travel several days to the nearest big city to charge their mobile phones.
This is a key development issue , as the African continent has more or less leapfrogged phone landlines and has gone straight to mobile phones, which people now rely on for almost all transactions. For instance, farmers communicate with other farmers, with merchants, for weather updates etc – all through their mobile phones.
Of course, solar lighting only gives communities the bare minimum of power such as light at night, mobile phone charging etc. To really scale up on the development stage, much increased electricity capacity is needed. So while solar lighting is the crucial first step, powering villages with solar panels should be seen as the next step. And it is already happening and is changing lives. As more finance in the coming years will go into such projects, they will undoubtedly rapidly increase in size and scope.
So if you care about lifting people out of poverty, these facts speak for themselves, and it is clean energy technologies and not fossil fuels which will help to achieve that.