Globally, at least 1.2 billion people — nearly a fifth of the planet — lives without access to electricity, according to the World Bank. The highest concentration is in sub-Saharan Africa, where more than 550 million people do not have electricity. Cowboys Stadium near Dallas, uses more electricity than the total installed capacity of my country. Small businesses in Liberia spend about 57 percent of their operational costs on power alone. At this rate, it is impossible for them to do much more than break even. And this is representative of the scale of the problem in many countries across the African continent.
African leaders are doing their part, putting in place bold plans to increase energy access for our people and committing to responsibly harness our own energy resources. As president, I signed an executive order establishing Liberia’s Rural and Renewable Energy Agency (RREA) and a Rural Energy Fund (REFUND) to bring modern energy services to the country’s rural areas. With support from the United States, Norway, the European Union and the World Bank, we are making progress toward getting the lights turned on in Liberia.
My commitment to this task is guided by the knowledge that reliable energy access is a basic precondition for almost all aspects of modern life — from reliable and efficient lighting, heating and cooking, to manufacturing, agriculture, transportation, telecommunications and self-sustaining economic growth.
In Liberia, we’ve seen how partnerships with the United States have made enormous differences in people’s lives. Thanks in part to American support, we’re building roads, schools and hospitals. And across the continent, millions of lives have been saved by programs like PEPFAR (the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) and the GAVI Alliance (the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization).
Now, the United States has a unique opportunity to partner again with Africans as we work to bring modern energy access to the continent. More than two dozen African states have already committed to support the goal of providing universal energy access by 2030 through the United Nations’ Sustainable Energy for All initiative. Combining this political will with the tools, expertise, and support of the U.S. government and private sector, we can collectively bring power to millions of people for the first time.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is the president of Liberia and winner of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize.