Increasing Energy Access to Eradicate Extreme Poverty


October 17, 2013

It’s something most take for granted. When we flip a switch, the light goes on. But imagine living without power: students are unable to study after dark, women give birth in under-equipped hospitals, and life-saving vaccines requiring refrigeration become ineffective.

The lack of energy access in sub-Saharan Africa remains one of the most critical impediments to Africa’s ability to fight poverty and build prosperity.

Phil Goodwin, executive director of Lifeline Technologies in South Africa, the product development arm of Lifeline Energy, shares his perspective.


The Dark Side of Education

As schooling typically takes place during the day, we often forget the importance of lighting as a constraint to education. This is the focus of “Black Out,” a new documentary from award-winning filmmaker Eva Weber. In its opening scene, hundreds of children in Guinea’s capital are studying under the international airport’s parking lot lights, as they do not have light in their homes.

Black Out – Trailer from HSI Short Films on Vimeo.

There is a clear correlation between access to energy and academic success. In 2011, a school in the south east of Sudan that had an average pass rate of less than 50 percent saw 100 percent of its students pass after the introduction of solar-powered generators. With light after dark, students could study safely at night.

Eva’s poignant documentary strongly connects the relationship between electrification and education – without the former, the latter inevitably suffers. The haunting images of wandering school children studying under the sodium streetlights are both despairing and inspiring. The desire of these children to learn and believing that education holds the key to breaking the poverty cycle coupled with their resolve to succeed under the most challenging circumstances makes “Black Out” mandatory viewing for all children who are privileged to have power.

I grew up in South Africa, which has most access to electricity in Africa, however there are currently more than 3,000 schools without electricity. The Department of Energy estimates that some 25 percent of households lack electricity—these are disturbing statistics for education in our country. In other sub-Saharan African countries, access levels are even worse. Let’s work together to make sure everyone has access to light, and to the opportunity it provides.

Zimbabwean student Tawanda Moyo (15) of Seke 2 Secondary School, in Harare, doing homework at home by candlelight due to national rolling electricity shortages. Photo credit:

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