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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Todd Moss is a former State Department official leading a small new nonprofit with a big idea: changing what he calls an incomplete conversation about electricity access in Africa and South Asia.

Why it matters: The Energy for Growth Hub wants to help enable access to power levels needed to build and sustain manufacturing and business development — not just power homes and charge phones.

The big picture: "In thinking about the future of energy in Africa, I’ve been amazed at how many people immediately go to the visual of a rural hut that doesn’t have lights," Moss tells Axios.

  • Residential power is a vital problem to solve, he said, but just part of the equation, and far from enough to seriously attack poverty.

By the numbers: The International Energy Agency says that the number of people worldwide without electricity access fell below 1 billion in 2017.

  • But Moss's organization estimates that a vastly larger number — 3 billion — live in economies that can't supply reliable and affordable power to businesses and industries.
  • He's concerned that discussions about power access focused on, say, rural rooftop solar often miss the scale of what's needed for widespread job growth.
  • In a recent interview, he was keen to show a scatterplot he made of World Bank data on income and per-capita power consumption, which pointed out, "There's no such thing as a low-energy, high-income country."

What's next: In the near-term, Moss sees the hub providing data and analysis that form a bridge between experts in places like MIT and Stanford, and policymakers like those at the World Bank, U.S. finance agencies, and African nations' government institutions.

  • “I was amazed at how much incredible high quality work was going on in energy policy and how little of it was actually having an effect on important decisions. So we are trying to fill that gap,” he said.

Moss says a range of energy sources will be needed to both fuel widespread economic development and build resilience to climate change.

  • Natural gas and hydro — of the large-scale and "micro" variety — are two of them.
  • “I am also a very big fan of the full range of solar advancement, wind advancement, even some of the advanced nuclear looks really promising for certain applications in Africa," he said, noting that countries will make their own decisions.

The intrigue: On climate change, while Moss agrees it's important to deploy the cleanest sources available, he says it's vital to ensure power production at a scale that supports infrastructure needed to build resilience.

  • “What are the technologies to respond to that? For extreme weather events you need concrete and steel. For rising temperatures you need air conditioning and cold storage. For clean water you need pumped irrigation and you are probably going to need desalination,” Moss said.
  • All this, he said, requires significant amounts of power to deploy and operate.

Details: Moss was deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs in the George W. Bush administration and later chief operating officer at the Center for Global Development.

  • The nonprofit, which Moss calls in "startup mode," formally launched late last year. It has a handful of paid staff and works with a wider constellation of experts in the U.S., Africa and Asia.
  • The group has funding from several foundations including the Rockefeller Foundation, as well as Chevron and GE.

Go deeper

Pentagon approves request for 100 National Guard troops for "Justice for J6" rally

Security fencing has been reinstalled around the Capitol. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has approved a request from Capitol Police to provide 100 D.C. National Guard troops in case law enforcement requires additional support at Saturday's "Justice for J6" rally at the Capitol.

Why it matters: Security preparations have ramped up ahead of the pro-Trump demonstration, where hundreds of protesters sympathetic to the Jan. 6 Capitol attack are expected to gather.

Biden threatens new sanctions against Ethiopian officials over Tigray conflict

Photo: Al Drago/Getty Images

President Biden on Friday signed an executive order allowing the Treasury and State Departments to impose sanctions against Ethiopian officials "responsible for, or complicit in, prolonging the conflict" in the Tigray region.

Driving the news: Hundreds of thousands of people are facing famine conditions in Tigray, but less than 10 percent of the needed humanitarian supplies has reached the region over the last month "due to the obstruction of aid access" by the Ethiopian government, according to Biden administration officials.

Top general: Calls to China were "perfectly within the duties" of job

Gen. Mark Milley. Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley told the Associated Press on Friday that calls with his Chinese counterpart during the final months of Donald Trump's presidency were "perfectly within the duties and responsibilities" of his job.

Why it matters: In his first public comments on the calls that have prompted critics to question whether the general went too far, Milley maintained that such conversations are "routine," per AP.