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Meeting Energy Needs of Growing Populations


Wind farms like this array of turbines near Tangiers, Morocco, present a renewable energy alternative to traditional sources of electricity in Africa.

The United States has recently committed to providing access to off-grid clean energy products and services to more than 500 million people by 2020.

One thing is for certain: as our collective populations grow, so will our need for energy. And just as surely, as we ramp up energy production, wherever possible, we must turn to production that is clean and sustainable.

Today’s global population is about 7.3 billion people. Of these, millions are underserved, and about 1 billion have no access at all to electricity. So, given that the population will expand to some 9 billion by the year 2050, in order to accommodate the needs of another 3 billion people, our energy output will need to increase by at least 80 percent. Even in the short term, the numbers are staggering.

As Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment Catherine Novelli said recently, “In just the next 15 years, we can expect the world will add more than 5,500 Gigawatts of electricity capacity. This is the equivalent of adding all the power generation that exists in the world today.” At the same time, we need to also reduce our greenhouse gas emissions in the energy sector by 60-80 percent to address global climate change.

One of the most promising technological advances in energy production is distributed energy systems, including “off-grid solutions”, such as power generators and solar panels, said Under Secretary Novelli. And because low-carbon technologies such as solar panels will be easier to acquire and cheaper to run than fossil fuel technologies, she said, the vast majority of those new connections will come from renewable energy sources.

The United States has recently committed to providing access to off-grid clean energy products and services to more than 500 million people by 2020. This includes a $75 million loan guarantee from USAID’s Power Africa program to scale up off-grid renewable investments in sub-Saharan Africa; $20 million in loans from the Overseas Private Investment Corporation for supporting residential solar in Kenya and Nigeria; and $46 million from the Millennium Challenge Corporation for off-grid electrification in Benin.

When it comes to energy, our goal is to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, clean energy for all by 2030.

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