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A woman working by solar-powered lamplight in the village of Ambakivao, Madagascar. Photo: Laure Fillon/AFP/Getty Images

Electrification initiative Power Africa has been faulted in a USAID Inspector General report for overstating the impact of its development efforts by counting the delivery of solar lanterns as new electricity connections.

Why it matters: Accurate measures of progress are essential for reaching the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 7: to ensure reliable and affordable energy worldwide by 2030. Although global energy access has expanded, strengthening the measures used to track it could help make a more meaningful impact.

By the numbers: Roughly 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa lack access to electricity at home, according to International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates.

  • Power Africa aims to support newly installed generation of 30 gigawatts (GW) and to establish 60 million new connections by 2030. It recently reached 10 GW across 120 projects and has helped to mobilize more than $18 billion in new investment.
  • But, but, but: The U.S. government initiative included 8.3 million solar lanterns, which can power hardly more than a single light bulb, among the total 10.6 million connections achieved by the end of 2017.

Between the lines: Small systems like solar lanterns are emblematic of the low bar international organizations have set for solving global energy poverty. Even as the household measures they use are low, they do not remotely reflect the energy needed to drive jobs and income growth in the wider economy.

  • The IEA considers energy access to be 50 kWh annually per person in rural areas and 100 kWh in cities. By comparison, the U.S. per person annual average is about 13,000 kWh.
  • The UN has adopted this standard as well, but at best, 50 kWh for a whole year will power a few lights and maybe a low-watt appliance, such as a small fan.

Where it stands: Power Africa has stopped counting lanterns as connections, but the international development community as a whole will have to overhaul the framing of its goals to achieve its ambitions.

  • The World Bank has developed a useful multi-tier framework that captures quality and reliability of power, but this hasn’t yet been rolled out very widely, and doing so regularly in every country might be impractical.

The bottom line: Ending energy poverty requires more than a lightbulb. Energy metrics should reflect this reality too.

Todd Moss is executive director of the Energy for Growth Hub and a visiting fellow at the Center for Global Development.

Go deeper

House Judiciary Committee advances reparations bill in historic vote

Sheila Jackson Lee. Photo: Al Drago/Getty Images

The House Judiciary Committee voted 25 to 17 Wednesday to advance a bill that would create a commission to study reparations for Black Americans who are the descendants of slaves.

Why it matters: "No such bill has ever come this far during Congressional history of the United States," said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), who sponsored the bill, per the Washington Post.

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Officer Kim Potter arrested, charged with manslaughter in Daunte Wright's death

Kim Potter's booking photos. Photo: Hennepin County Sheriff's Office

Kim Potter, the former police officer charged with second-degree manslaughter in the fatal shooting of Daunte Wright, was released on a $100,000 bond on Wednesday, Hennepin County jail records show.

Why it matters: Sunday's shooting of the 20-year-old Black man in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, just 10 miles from where George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer last year, has reinvigorated Black Lives Matter protests and led to three consecutive nights of unrest.

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Biden names Erika Moritsugu as senior AAPI liaison

Erika Moritsugu. Photo courtesy: National Partnership for Women & Families

President Biden has named Erika Moritsugu as deputy assistant to the president and Asian American and Pacific Islander senior liaison, the White House announced Wednesday.

Driving the news: The decision follows weeks of pressure from AAPI leaders to include more Asian American representation at the Cabinet level and in senior administration roles.

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