The power to change lives

On the occasion of International Women’s Day, a look at how access to electricity affects women’s education in Africa

Hundreds of millions of Africans lack access to a power grid, which the International Energy Agency says is a principal bottleneck to the continent’s growth. The shortage is felt most acutely by sub-Saharan Africa’s rural poor, where nearly nine out of every 10 people have no electricity, according to the NGO, Africare.

No electricity significantly impairs the ability of rural Africans to become educated. UNESCO reports about 43 million school-aged children are still outside the formal education system in sub-Saharan Africa, and quality education remains a major challenge.

Without electricity, there are no computers, no radios or televisions, no refrigerators, no labs, not even a decent lamp to study by at night.

Lack of educational opportunity is particularly hard on girls and young women, who comprise half the youth population of the developing world. Recent work has begun to quantify the potential that human development investments in girls have on GDP growth rates, according to a World Bank study.

The opportunity cost of girls leaving school in Africa is significant, according to the study. If girls in Kenya, Tanzania, Senegal and Uganda had completed primary school alone, they would have contributed 20 percent, 18 percent, 14 percent and 13 percent (of annual GDP) more to their economies over their lifetimes.

The need is not lost on African politicians, and there are numerous rural electrification proposals. One of the most promising is the commercial partnership between ABB and Vestas Wind Systems to bring affordable electricity to communities that are energy-poor, but rich in untapped wind generation resources.

The Wind for Prosperity initiative is based on a hybrid, wind-diesel electricity generating system made up of ABB microgrid power stabilization solutions and factory-refurbished Vestas wind turbines combined with advanced diesel power generation capability.

The result is a stable, reliable power source and electrical infrastructure for remote areas not linked to a power grid.

The Wind for Prosperity initiative also represents an opportunity for business, government, and financial institutions to join forces and improve lives while generating risk-adjusted returns for private investors.

As the president of Africare, Dr. Darius Mans, rightly observes, when rural Africans have power in their lives, they will have more power over their lives.

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Photo Courtesy: Vestas

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About the author

Stefania Mascheroni

I’m communications manager for ABB’s power generation and water business, a leading provider of integrated power and automation solutions for conventional and renewable-based power plants and water applications. In today’s world, we must think ahead to decide what we want to achieve to make our world better and greener, then come back to the present to decide how to make this real.
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