ADMINISTRATOR SAMANTHA POWER: Thank you so much. I really appreciate that. That’s really the only way I can get a standing ovation [laughter]. I’m grateful, and I know, whatever Lucy puts her mind to there’s basically nothing she can’t do. And hearing from you, engaging through the Young African Leaders Forum, but also engaging so many of the young people here in Kenya and across the continent who are living the change that they seek, who are so full of ideas for solutions to problems that are not, by and large, of their own making – they’re of the making of others. And, really, inspiration comes to us from you. So thank you, Lucy, and thanks to all of those of your generation who are taking on these challenges.
So, it’s really exciting to be here, ten years – almost to the day – since Barack Obama traveled to Cape Town, South Africa to announce Power Africa, a new partnership to help bring an end to energy poverty in sub-Saharan Africa and to extend green electricity to even the most remote communities.
In a way, this commitment stems from our own history. In the 1930s – when about one in ten farms in the United States had access to electricity – our government created a new agency called the Rural Electrification Administration, the REA. The REA set out on a mission to bring electricity to rural America – town by town, business by business, home by home.
One day, the REA received a letter from a woman who was over a hundred years old. The REA had just extended electricity to her community. In all of her life, she wrote in this letter, she’d never felt like she’d been born too soon – until then. Until the power came on.
Now, she said, she wished she could get to see all the incredible progress that electrification would unleash in her community – how it would transform the way people connected with one another, how they treated each other when they were sick, cooled down in the heat, learned new information, grew and stored and cooked food. She wanted to be there to see how everything would change. But she knew she likely didn’t have many years left.
For her, the lights came on too late.
Still today, six hundred million people in sub-Saharan Africa – roughly half the population – lack access to electricity. This population is among the youngest in the entire world – full of potential, full of creativity and ingenuity, ready to use electricity to power businesses, and pioneer new technologies, and improve livelihoods. For them, it is not too late – but only if we act fast. Indeed, faster.
When Power Africa launched a decade ago, many people argued – in fact, some today still argue – that in order to act fast, we needed to use the same technologies that we used to electrify the United States back in the 1930s: burning coal and other fossil fuels that we have since learned pollute our air – harming the health of the people who breathe it, and changing the climate on the planet itself.
Power Africa set out to prove that cynicism wrong. And boy has it. We helped connect green tech companies and investors with leaders in African governments who had the determination and foresight to try a different approach. Together, we helped build a stronger, greener, more reliable energy grid through new solar stations, geothermal projects, and wind farms that stretched for kilometers – like Kipeto Wind Farm just south of here.
At the same time, we invested in the many African innovators and entrepreneurs who are developing off-grid clean energy solutions – so that even communities for whom connection to the grid remains inaccessible or unaffordable, even those communities can still get the power they need.
Because of these efforts, health care workers are using refrigerators to store life-saving vaccines, computers to log health data, lights to illuminate surgeries that were once done by candlelight. And not once done 50 years ago, once done, in some cases, several months ago, or a decade ago.
Farmers are using water pumps to keep crops alive when the rains don’t come. Kids are continuing to be able to read after the sun sets.
All told, Power Africa has helped deliver new or improved electricity to more than 172 million people living and working in sub-Saharan Africa. That’s more people than lived in the entire United States at the time when our own Rural Electrification Administration brought power across our country.
And this hasn’t come at the cost of pollution. In fact, in the past year alone, Power Africa has helped avoid almost 8 million tons of CO2 emissions. That’s the equivalent to taking close to almost two million cars off the road for a year – almost the number of registered cars in fact here in Kenya.
Together, we’ve proven: we can extend power across the planet without harming the planet in the process.
And now, we need to build on that momentum. Because the simple fact is that we’re going to need to move faster to reach the true scale of what we need.
Government leaders need to keep taking down the regulatory obstacles and barriers to investment that are still slowing down new energy projects in many nations. And we are heartened by some of the progress that is afoot here in Kenya.
And governments and investors from more developed nations – whose prosperity, we cannot forget, has been fueled in part by the dirty energy that we have used for decades – need to increase our investments in Africa’s clean energy future.
So today, I am excited to announce the next step in our Power Africa journey. We are committing $89 million to invest in clean energy in East and Central Africa. And, now that the evidence from the past ten years has proven beyond a doubt that clean energy investments deliver meaningful returns, we’ll use that money as leverage. We know that in the large scheme of things $89 million is not a huge amount of money, but it is catalytic. It is leverage to mobilize billions more in public and private investment.
Together, we’ll build mass clean power generation projects and kilometers of transmission lines to get this power to more people. And at the same time, we will work with local partners, like Jomo Kenyatta University here in Kenya, to find and invest in the smaller solar powered systems that can be transformative for small and medium sized businesses. Those businesses can include solar water pumps or grain mills – so that electricity can improve livelihoods, generate economic growth, and boost resilience even beyond the grid.
All told, over the next five years, this single Power Africa initiative alone, expects to provide more than 50 million more people in the region with new or improved electricity. And it will reduce, sequester, or avoid 6.5 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions. That’s the equivalent of taking about a million and a half cars off the road for a year.
This initiative, to be clear, is just one part of the Power Africa portfolio. Across the continent, we’re going to keep expanding our partnerships, learning from what hasn’t worked, and building on what has. And I’d invite every one of you to be a part of that effort – particularly those leaders from the Youth Energy Summit who have joined us here today.
I know it can be difficult to break into a field like energy – particularly if you don’t see people of your gender, or your ethnicity, or your background in leadership roles. But we need your talent, we need your perspective, your ideas – so that we can keep finding better, more equitable, more sustainable ways to power our world. Your contributions will drive an energy revolution that doesn’t just benefit people who are already in positions of power, but empowers all people – in all senses of the word.
The woman who wrote that letter to the REA back in the 1930s was born too soon to see the rush of progress that electrification sparked in her community.
But you? You are here at exactly the right moment – not only to see your communities transform, but to help lead that transformation yourselves.
Together, we can get people across the continent the power to learn, and build, and grow, and invent. We can use clean energy to fuel rising incomes, better healthcare, and more resilient food systems. And we can show the world – and any remaining skeptics – that we don’t have to choose between sustainable energy and energy for all – that we can, and we absolutely must, have both.
Thank you so much.