I’m seating in the new headquarter of the African Union in Addis Ababa, discussing energy potential of Africa, while the lights went off. This happened less than 2 weeks ago. We continued the debate in the dark for a couple of minutes before the power was restored. The power cut, so frequent in Africa, reminded to all of us the challenges we have to overcome to plug Africa into reliable energy supply. We could continue the debate with full lighting after few minutes, but half of African population is less fortunate; 550 mln people do not have access to electricity on the continent and they literally live in the dark.
This has to change, and this has to change quickly. When the EU pledged to connect to electricity 500 million people from poor countries by 2030, many had doubts whether this would be possible. Yet, only one year after this announcement we are already launching projects that will change lives of thousands of poor people.
Take Burkina Faso, for instance. The access to electricity in this landlocked country is scarce, more than 80 per cent of energy comes from wood and fossil fuels are mainly imported. You don’t need to be an energy expert to figure out that this is not good energy mix and that the prices of energy are high.
For this reason the EU decided to co-finance the biggest solar power plant in West Africa, located in the suburbs of Ouagadougou, Burkina’s capital. The power plant will provide clean, sustainable energy to 400,000 people, mostly in rural areas. This investment is good for people, but also good for environment.
The size of land is an equivalent to almost 50 football fields, on which 96,000 solar panels will produce clean energy. The chosen site is located on degraded land on which vegetation is very difficult, so there is no environmental impact here. In sum – no local pollution, no greenhouse gases. This is just one example which shows that sustainable development and green growth have a real meaning.
Within UN’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative I will invest more in similar projects. At regional level, we are preparing 60 million euro in support of the development of the main control centre for the West African Power Pool that will be located in Benin.
Very recently we have also agreed to support Burundi, the DR Congo and Rwanda to elaborate a regional energy cooperation programme in the Great Lakes region. This very ambitious project can bring together 3 countries with difficult history to secure better access to energy for their citizens.
And there is more to come, as I believe that access to energy can be a game-changer in our fight against poverty; I am convinced that energy can empower poor people. It can help them to get better education, better access to the markets and will open many business opportunities. This is what development policy is about: providing hope for better lives.