Mark Zuckerberg released a video earlier this month to mark a staggering company milestone – one billion users in a single day. In it, Facebook asked a simple question: “What is a billion? Really, what is it?” The answer: A billion is “more than a number. It’s moms and little brothers. And cousins. And cousins of cousins… It’s people.”
What Facebook did not say is that today, there are another billion people in the world–mostly in rural sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia–who will never see the “What is 1,000,000,000” video. They won’t see it because they don’t have access to electricity. No electricity, no Internet. And no refrigerated vaccines, no light to do homework by at night, no pumps to provide clean drinking water.
A Face(book)-less, unfriended 17 percent of the global population.
This “Other Billion” doesn’t need a way to wish each other happy birthday online, a “dislike” button or to replay the video of a cat dressed as a shark riding a Roomba.
The Other Billion need clean, affordable, reliable power.
Power is fundamental to human and economic development: the greater a country’s electricity consumption, the greater the well-being of its people. Access to energy empowers people to join in the kind of activities–including using the Internet–that can drive development and create opportunity. The promise of access to energy is so great that lack of supply forces people to extremes to get power. These extremes include walking hours to “centralized” battery charging centers, putting entire families at risk with toxic kerosene fumes and spending up to 100 times more on non-renewable, poor-quality sources of light and power.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Today, the Other Billion can generate their own high-quality, safe, dependable renewable energy that companies like Google and Apple increasingly rely on. With technology innovations powered in part by the same Silicon Valley innovation machine that has enabled Facebook to reach its one billion users, ending energy poverty–through solar, mobile payment, micro-grids, power storage, LED lighting–in our lifetimes is now possible.
This week access to clean energy joins the likes of education, health and equity as a one of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals for the coming two decades. According to the Secretary General, achieving power for all “will be essential to meeting the other Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).” Given that energy is central to all other SDGs, accelerating universal energy access is not only critical, but possible.
Facebook says the number one billion “somehow feels smaller than it ever has.” In the same way, reaching the billion without power is a far smaller challenge than it has ever been. Off-grid renewables can turn lights on faster, charge phones more cheaply and get power to fridges, water pumps and computers in the remotest places on earth. While currently available distributed renewable energy (DRE) solutions are able to meet the entire range of access tiers, these solutions can–and should–be deployed and adopted at faster rates. Technology has presented an opportunity for non-linear change; with many of the same success factors in place that made mobile phones such a success in the developing world (inexpensive hardware, competition and affordable payments). DRE is making it possible to achieve universal energy access before 2030.
We don’t have to wait until 2030 to achieve SDG7. We challenge the titans of Silicon Valley–the Apples, the Teslas and yes, the Facebooks–to join political leaders, investors and organisations around the world in an effort to innovate solutions that will help achieve clean energy access by 2025. In 10 years time, we can celebrate reaching a whole new billion, and not just on Facebook. By 2025, we can far more than connect people with each other, but connect the Other Billion with a far brighter future.
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