Lighting Up a Dark Continent

  Take a look at a satellite photo of Africa at night.  Apart from a few specks of light over the largest cities, the continent is dark. Millions of rural Africans live without any electrical power at all, and the U.N. Development Program estimates that on a yearly basis the 19.5 million people of New York State consume more residential electricity than the 791 million people of sub-Saharan Africa, excluding South Africa. Now, the United States and Europe give a lot of aid to Africa – well over a trillion dollars over the past 50 years – and there is an argument about whether this is or is not enough.  The problem many see is that a substantial amount of this money at best vanishes due to inefficiency, but at worst ends up as a Mercedes Benz in the garage of a gleeful government minister. Beneath this economic debate, however, lies the fact that aid processes in Africa can be made more efficient and therefore more helpful to some of the poorest people in the world.  These people need many things, but one of their most basic and easily addressed needs is energy. How can Africa approach this problem?  The answer may lie in the work of organizations like the DESERTEC Foundation, a non-profit that seeks to promote the concept of “clean power from deserts” around the world.  It...

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