An estimated 1.2 billion people — or 17 per cent of the global population — live without access to electricity.
More Africans live in the darkness than people in any other region, but we cannot solve our continent’s energy crisis alone. We need collaboration across all industries, sectors and regions.
The Middle East is a hub for pioneering sustainable energy thought leadership, innovation and investment. The new ideas and approaches emerging from the Middle East could make a critical difference to Africa’s energy crisis. While much of the technology and know-how needed to power Africa already exists, there is a desperate need for greater technical innovation, more creative financial models and increased investments to move the most promising research projects and pilot programmes forward.
As the Middle East’s largest gathering focused on sustainability, Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (ADSW) is a valuable opportunity to link regional leaders and participants from all around the world with specific expertise in energy technology, innovation and policy with Africa. Samba Bathily, Thione Niang and I — co-founders of Solektra International and its initiative on electrification, Akon Lighting Africa (ALA) — are attending ADSW this year for that very purpose.
In February 2014, we founded ALA based on a firm belief in the power of renewable energy to bring light to 600 million Africans. In less than a year, we established operations in 15 African countries. By the end of 2016, we expect to expand our reach to 10 more countries. Amid this rapid growth, we have maintained focus on our core objective: To deliver clean and affordable electricity to African villages and households alike through innovative solar-powered solutions, like solar street lights and micro-generators. But we do not intend to stop there. In order to meet our desired scale of impact, change must occur at a systemic level.
With the high cost of connecting remote communities to a main electrical grid, we consider green micro-grids to be a very promising solution to this issue. Based on solar, wind or biomass, these clean, low-cost and decentralised alternative energy systems bring more than energy: They help to accelerate the development of local communities by supporting the “productive” use of energy — for schools, health care centres, small businesses, transportation activities and agriculture.
Recent international developments have confirmed our commitment to this path. Enough investments in Africa’s renewable energy future were announced at COP21 to bring millions out of the darkness. In particular, I would like to mention the African Renewable Energy Initiative (AREI), which was launched with the goal of producing 300 gigawatts of electricity for Africa by 2030.
On the heels of COP21, ADSW presents an unparalleled opportunity to harness the growing global momentum around sustainable energy. We welcome fellow ADSW participants to join our micro-grid coalition and engage ALA, Solektra International and others in order to develop a concrete set of renewable and scalable energy solutions in Africa.
While more Africans lack access to electricity than those in other regions, the goal of promoting renewable energy sources is universal. Through partnership and collaboration, the Middle East and Africa can make significant strides towards a more sustainable world. We hope you will join us.
Akon is a US-Senegalese singer and music producer and co-founder and president of the board of Solektra International, which initiated the Akon Lighting Africa electrification programme in February 2014