The annual letter from the Gates Foundation calls for an "energy miracle" that will save the planet. But could such a miracle work everywhere?
In this year’s annual letter from the Gates Foundation, Bill Gates called for the invention of an "energy miracle" — one that would free the world from its dependency on fossil fuels through the creation of a cheap and clean source of energy. This in turn would stave off climate change and bring power to the 1.2 billion people on the planet without electricity. Gates himself pledged $2 billion of his personal fortune to this cause.
Gates is nothing if not visionary. And if he doesn’t have the capital, influence, and foresight to bring clean energy to the world, who does? Sometimes solutions that seem visionary from the office window of a New York or London high rise quickly turn murky on the ground. To succeed in the developing world, such far flung technological solutions will need to consider:
* Local circumstances: Some types of energy technology don't actually benefit poor people. Large, centralised plants, for example, provide lots of energy and revenue, but often don’t reach people who need it the most, especially in rural areas.
* Poor governance: Factors such as corruption, lack of accountability and lack of capacity will lead to inefficient distribution networks and poor allocation of resources. Such will have obvious implications to the implementation of a global technological initiative.
* Unforeseen social and environmental consequences – one example: In the 1990s well-meaning agricultural experts encouraged rural farmers in India to buy tractors to speed the transition to modern farming. When the financially overextended farmers defaulted, suicide rates climbed. Furthermore, these new tractors compacted and changed the soil to such an extent that the farms now needed expensive fossil fuel fertilizes.
If a Gatesian energy miracle is to succeed on the African continent, it needs to take place in collaboration with Africans.
_____Bill and Melinda Gates. "2016 Gates Foundation Annual Letter: If you could have one superpower, what would it be?" Gatesnotes.
22 February 2016
_____Mark Silver. "Bill Gates Calls For 'Energy Miracle' In 15 Years. Do Experts Agree?" NPR.org: Goats and Soda. 09 March 2016
_____Ra'eesa Pather. Bill Gates urges young people to find Africa’s ‘energy miracle’. Mail & Guardian. 23 February 2016.