Energy and oil majors turn to rural Africa in grab for world’s next billion customers

(Climate Change News, 13 Mar 2019) Armed with solar panels, lanterns and mini grids, European energy giants hope to capture the data of hundreds of millions of new, increasingly wealthy customers in rural Africa.

The first step is to set up tiny renewable generators independent of main power grids, often sold on pay-as-you-go schemes like mobile phones.

Once that basic energy supply is established – to charge phones, home lighting and other small appliances – it’s expected to fuel demand for a slew of new products and services, such as internet access, mobile banking, water pumps, mills, fridges, home batteries and cooking stoves. The reams of data on how these new customers use and pay for their energy will help companies decide their next moves.

It’s a potential bonanza that is drawing electricity, oil and gas, equipment-making and technology companies to invest in rural projects they once deemed too small and risky, especially in Africa. The interest is part of the industry’s broadening from large, centralised power plants and fossil fuels towards flexible, off-grid renewables.

Just under 1 billion people worldwide lacked access to electricity as of 2017, with around 600 million in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the International Energy Agency.

“Beyond the fact that there’s a moral duty to provide all these people with electricity, this may be considered also as a huge business, as the sort of famous billionth client that we are waiting for,” said Lamberto Dai Prà, Enel Green Power’s head of Africa, Asia and the Pacific. “It’s a huge market, but this market has still to be reached.”

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Climate Change News, 13 Mar 2019: Energy and oil majors turn to rural Africa in grab for world’s next billion customers