In Electricity for Africa, Matt Ridley quotes a UN official who says, despite the troubles in Libya and the Sahel that make the news, the long-term problems are concentrated in Subsaharan Africa:
Just to get sub-Saharan electricity consumption up to the levels of South Africa or Bulgaria would mean adding about 1,000 gigawatts of capacity, the installation of which would cost at least Â£1 trillion.
Renewable generation will cost about 4-5 times what natural gas generation costs.
The economist BjÃ¸rn Lomborg has been making the case that getting energy and clean water to Africans is a higher moral priority than pursuing renewable energy. He still thinks climate change is a danger, but he thinks developing new energy technologies will get far better results than rolling out expensive and land-hungry renewables today.
In the mid-1990’s I worked for a telecommunications firm that was trying to make a set top box for interactive television. (This was even as the internet was exploding. Read Michael Lewis’ The Next Next Thing to find out what the “B Team” was working on.) One of the things I spent a lot of time on was “software update.” We needed a way to securely update the operating software in the device, and we wanted to do it while connected to our network, because the cost to roll a truck and have a technician do it was prohibitive.
A few years later, I was working for a different company trying to innovate in the electrical power industry. (I know, it was hopeless. But I was young and naive.) Anyway, we had the exact same problem: securely updating the software in a networked device. It’s a problem that’s fraught with difficulties.
As it happens, both of those ventures flamed out, so I never got to be part of solving that problem. But this morning, as I was eating my oatmeal, I saw that someone else seems to be doing it: