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Co-op Know-how Aids Electrification Worldwide

Part of a report by the International Energy Association reads, “The IEA estimates that the investment requirement for electricity generation, transmission, and distribution in developing countries will amount to over $185 billion per year. Even with investment of this magnitude, 1.4 billion people will still have no access to electricity in 2030.”

Today nearly one-third of the world’s population does not have access to electricity. With continued population growth, financing all the construction needed to achieve the goal of global electrification by the year 2050 will remain a difficult task.

The list of reasons for a lack of progress extending electric lines to everyone in the world is long and varied: lack of investment capital, lack of short-term profit opportunities, corruption.

While finding the money to get projects started is just one part of the problem, it’s an important one. Asked what it costs to bring electricity to rural areas around the globe, Doug Barnes, senior energy specialist with the World Bank, says, “A rule of thumb is $1,000 per household.”

Barnes says, “We’re involved in projects in a wide range of sizes. In Bangladesh, the loan is $220 million over a five-year period, with capital coming from the government of Bangladesh, the World Bank, and several international donors.”

Perhaps more important than money, though, is the kind of practical experience that America’s rural electric cooperatives can offer to help bring electricity to unserved communities on every continent.

Paul Clark, vice president for Business Development with the International Programs of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, says, “Each time I meet with people in rural areas who are making plans to provide access to electricity, I see that it gives people hope for the future… It convinces them that things which have been the same for countless generations could be different for their children.”

Clark says, “Electricity changes almost every sector of a rural community—it affects agriculture, social services such as education and health, even community safety with street lights. And it can change the employment pattern within the community.”

Working out financial and technical details of a proposed project aren’t the only problems to solve. Clark notes that local people often have no previous experience with the kinds of things Americans take for granted.

“One of the challenges we face is helping to build a local business culture,” says Clark. “If the people in local communities are motivated toward success, they can be shown how to take the lead and do for themselves what needs to be done. When we bring in cooperative employees and volunteers from the United States, we show local people how to set up a business plan, how to conduct meetings, how to collect the full amount due from customers, and everything in between.”

Clark says, “One of the challenges for the NRECA is to stay with a project over a long period of years to make certain that these new ideas become a part of local culture. When local people have a stake in the day-to-day operations of their own electric cooperative, they will work that much harder to make electrification a success.”

That kind of hands-on involvement must carry over beyond setting up poles and power lines.

Doug Barnes says, “Electrification in and of itself will not cause development within a community. There needs to be an integrated approach to get people involved. Infrastructure alone won’t do it. What makes for success is a combination that includes roads, schools, communication, and widespread community involvement.”

For more about universal electricity access, visit the International Energy Agency Web site at www.iea.org.

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