News You Really Need To See: “Weak Power Grids in Africa Stunt Economies and Fire Up Tempers”

“Weak Power Grids in Africa Stunt Economies and Fire Up Tempers”

The New York Times, July 4, 2015, p.A1

With winter here in South Africa, the worst blackouts in years are plunging residents into darkness in poor townships and wealthy suburbs alike.  The cutoffs have dampened the economy, Africa’s second biggest, and are expected to continue for another two to three years.  Despite a decade of strong economic expansion, sub-Saharan Africa is still far behind in its ability to generate something fundamental to its future, electricity, hampering growth and frustrating its ambitions to catch up with the rest of the world.  All of sub-Saharan Africa’s power generating capacity is less than South Korea’s, and a quarter of it is unproductive at any given moment because of the continent’s aging infrastructure. The World Bank estimates that blackouts alone cut the gross domestic products of sub-Saharan countries by 2.1 percent.  The crippling effect was recently on display in Nigeria, which overtook South Africa as the continent’s biggest economy last year.  Nigeria’s electrical grid churns out so little power that the country mostly runs on private generators.  So when a fuel shortage struck this spring, a national crisis quickly followed, disrupting cellphone service, temporarily closing bank branches and grounding airplanes.  The power shortages and blackouts have cast a harsh light on elected officials, causing rising anger among voters for whom reliable electricity was supposed to be a dividend of democracy and economic growth. … But investments and changes in the electricity sector on the continent have yet to yield significant gains, and experts predict that it will take decades before sub-Saharan Africa enjoys universal access to electricity. … South Africa, which has the continent’s only nuclear power plant, has around half of sub-Saharan Africa’s power generating capacity, roughly 44 gigawatts.  Still, the power cuts contributed to a recent drop in economic growth and a spike in unemployment to 26.4 percent, the worst level in a dozen years.”

Quickie analysis:  Perhaps not surprisingly, you can’t run a 21st century economy with an, at best, 1990s power grid.

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