What exactly is “energy for growth”?

All economies require energy. While some approaches to tackle energy poverty emphasize home lighting and phone charging, energy’s primary contribution to development — at least since the industrial revolution — is when it drives industry, commerce, and economic expansion. This dynamic is still true today, even for information-driven economies. Ample supplies of reliable and affordable energy are an unavoidable necessity for employment and higher incomes.

 

How is “energy for growth” different from “energy access”?

They are related but separate ideas. Energy access refers to the question of whether or not a person is connected to some minimal supply of electricity at home. Access to energy in this sense is important, of course, but has little impact on individual economic mobility. At least two billion people have energy access (e.g., enough power for lights at home), but still live in countries without energy for growth where shortages and unreliability harms their future.

 

What does a “high-energy system” look like, anyway?

A high-energy system delivers ample, affordable, 24/7 energy as the lifeblood of a modern economy. These systems include a diversified generation mix along with a well-designed and well-maintained transmission and distribution infrastructure. A high-energy system, when working, is nearly invisible. The citizens of the United States, China, and the European Union have little real concern about power shortages or prolonged blackouts. Success is when those who live in Sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia no longer have this worry.  

 

Is the Hub opposed to tackling household-level energy poverty?

Absolutely not. Household access to energy is an essential part of fighting energy poverty. But it’s only a part. The Hub aims to complement household access by exploring different viable routes to building the infrastructure needed for a high-energy prosperous future.

 

Why is the Hub working on gas-to-power when there are so many renewable energy options?

Three billion people live in countries where a lack of access to reliable, abundant supplies to electricity is a fundamental barrier to progress. People in these places need electricity, they need a lot of it, and they need it ASAP. Renewable energy has incredible potential and should be exploited to its fullest. But no economy can function on wind and solar alone — at least not yet. Lots of countries with electricity shortfalls are also endowed with natural gas and many of them are already exporting gas to wealthier nations. Using this resource at home is one option that countries may choose.

 

Won’t increasing energy supplies in emerging economies just make climate change worse and just hurt poor people?

One tragic irony of climate change is that the regions of the world hardest hit by its effects are those that are the least responsible for causing emissions. But adapting to the impacts of climate change also means that many areas of the world will need more energy, not less. Extreme weather will require steel and concrete for resilient infrastructure. Hotter weather means more cold storage and air conditioning. Drier climates will need more pumped fresh water and desalination. All of these technologies are hugely energy intensive.

 

What’s the Hub’s view of the on-grid vs. off-grid debate?

The Hub takes a technology-neutral approach to both energy generation and delivery. In some areas, off-grid and mini-grid systems will make the most economic sense and are the most practical solutions. In many places, a traditional grid will continue to be the most cost effective way to achieve economies of scale. The Hub’s belief is that investment and policy decisions should be based on data and evidence rather than ideology.

 

Aren’t emerging economies leapfrogging old-style industrialization and jumping straight to service economies, which won’t require high-energy systems? 

Service economies also require high-energy systems. ICT, data centers, and other service industries may not have the same energy requirements as, say, aluminium smelting. But they still need abundant — and especially reliable – energy. Just one typical large office building — of which there are 50,000 in the United States — requires about one megawatt of installed capacity to fully function. That’s why a medium sized US city like Buffalo, New York or Laredo, Texas has as much electricity generation capacity as all of Senegal.  

 

The Hub connects research with policymakers. Why will that help energy for growth?

Lots of important policy and investment decisions are made in the absence of sufficient information. Policymakers and businesses across Africa and parts of Asia are hungry for data and evidence to guide their options. At the same time, there’s an incredible amount of high-quality research going on at universities that is sitting on the shelf and not reaching people who might be able to use it. The Hub bridges that gap.

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