From World Development Perspectives (January 2020)
A number of “disruptive” data science and sensor technologies are creating new opportunities for addressing global challenges. The emergence of abundant computing power made possible the generation and storage of “big data,” enabled the explosion of sensors and networked devices, and powered major breakthroughs in the application of Artificial Intelligence, and Machine Learning techniques. These developments have led to a new trend best described as the seamless interplay between the physical and the digital world—also known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0). This has paved the way for potential radical transformation of whole sectors and industries across the globe. Perhaps somewhat hidden from the hype surrounding these advancements are the opportunities they present for challenges in emerging and frontier markets, and sub-Saharan African countries in particular.
Providing electricity to the currently 860 million people globally without access presents a generational challenge and opportunity. As of 2018, only 45 percent of the African population had access to electricity services—the lowest regional average in the world. This figure includes huge gaps in electricity access between rural and urban regions with access rates averaging 23 and 79 percent, respectively. But it isn’t only about basic access; even in grid-connected areas, quality of power supply is predominantly low, while costs are among the highest worldwide.