Globe facing Africa

Why Africa Needs Fossil Fuels

Environmental campaigners like to insist that Africa should meet its energy needs through solar panels and wind turbines. But as long as fossil fuels remain cheaper than renewable energy, such prescriptions – as well-meaning as they may be – would cripple the continent's economic growth and leave hundreds of millions in poverty.

SANTIAGO – Africa is the world’s most “renewable” continent when it comes to energy. In the rich world, renewables account for less than a tenth of total energy supplies. The 900 million people of Sub-Saharan Africa (excluding South Africa) get 80% of their energy from renewables.

While a person in Europe or North America uses 11,000 kWh per year on average (much of it through industrial processes), a person in Sub-Sahara Africa uses only 137kWh – less than a typical American refrigerator uses in four months. More than 600 million people in Africa have no access to electricity at all.

All this is not because Africa is green, but because it is poor. Some 2% of the continent’s energy needs are met by hydro-electricity, and 78% by humanity’s oldest “renewable” fuel: wood. This leads to heavy deforestation and lethal indoor air pollution, which kills 1.3 million people each year.

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