By Geoff Hill, Special to The China Post
If you put together all the electricity plants of sub-Saharan Africa, their output comes to less than South Korea. At one-thirtieth the size, Taiwan produces a much power as South Africa which, in turn, generates a quarter of all the continent’s kilowatts. The new U.S. government sees electricity as not just an economic problem, but part of a Trump strategy to keep the world safe. In Washington, the State Department is talking about the need to shore up power supply in Asia, Africa and Latin America as a way to lift employment, reducing the risk of young men drifting into militia groups and curbing the flood of migrants. But how do you achieve that without spending money? The answer may lie in sharing American know-how. In his campaign for the White House, Donald Trump said he would “make America great again” by rebuilding the U.S. economy. He would fund this by staying out of foreign wars, and cutting the billions Washington spends on NGOs, climate change, and aid programs that critics say have failed to lift places like Africa out of poverty. Mr. Trump also pledged to bring back the coal pits of Wyoming, Kentucky and West Virginia, restoring thousands of jobs. When asked about the effect this might have on the environment, he promised to spend big on making coal cleaner than ever. Recently, one of the president’s new advisers on energy, Professor Griff Thompson, said this technology might form a new style of aid to Africa.
The plan, he said, was to look at “what would be required to facilitate the sort of coal technology” other countries may need.
In Kenya, for example, only half the population is linked to the national grid, especially away from cities like Mombasa and Nairobi. Now there are plans for the country’s first coal-fired power station near Lamu, one of the oldest towns in East Africa dating back nearly 700 years. A local “Save Lamu” campaign is against the project and the U.S. green lobby has raised concerns. In the Mui basin, just over 100 kilometers east of Nairobi, Kenya has an estimated one billion tons of coal and another power station is on the drawing board nearby. The world’s largest coal-fired power plant is at Taichung on the west coast of Taiwan. “Whether it’s coal or natural gas or renewable energy, we see it as to the pathway toward greater economic growth,” says Professor Thompson, adding that, under Donald Trump, the U.S. will no longer meddle in the environmental affairs of other nations. “It is the prerogative of every country to determine their energy mix.”
Nakul Virat agrees that all countries need energy from several sources. Born in India, and raised in Nigeria and Ukraine, he is business leader for Africa and the Middle East at generator firm, Cummins. “There always has to be a mix of power. So whether you go solar, gas or coal, a hospital needs a back-up generator. Even in Europe or the U.S., this is true.” Solar, he says, is now cheaper than ever, “but it means protecting solar panels. Theft of these can be a problem all over the world and especially in areas with high levels of poverty. Even generators can be targets for criminals. So you need to use common sense.” Clean coal technology as part of a U.S. aid package would get around the complaint that, all too often, donor money ends up in hands of the wealthy or the political elite. It’s hard to pocket a transfer of science.