An MBA student asked Warren Buffett what he would do to be happier, if he could live his life over again. It was 1998 and Buffett was at the University of Florida’s School of Business. He answered, and I am paraphrasing here, that if he was given the option to live his life all over again, he probably wouldn’t take it.
He made an analogy to drawing balls out of a barrel: 5.8 billion balls representing the number of people on the planet. The chance that a student would pick one and end up being an American in a graduate school of business were extraordinarily unlikely. He asked the students if they wanted to risk taking a second shot at life.
“Most of you won’t want to put your ball back,” he said. “So, what you’re really saying is, ‘I’m the luckiest 1 percent of the world right now, sitting in this room — the top 1 percent of the world.’ ”
More than a Technical Challenge
I think of Buffett’s comments when the topic of reliable access to energy comes up because luck and where you live has a lot to do with it. As the leader in digital transformation of energy management and automation in more than 100 countries, Schneider Electric considers access to energy a basic human right. But it is a basic human right that approximately one billion people on the globe lack.
I believe this access is an essential pillar for economic development and I also understand that access to energy is far more than a technical challenge. Most of the people without access live on less than two U.S. dollars a day.
In my work on innovative data center solutions, I’ve had opportunities to travel globally and witness extreme poverty, to see what life is like when you do not live in a country with reliable access, or any access, to electricity for basic needs. Let’s be clear. I’m not talking about pressing a button and a garage door opens or coffee starts brewing. I’m talking about crucial needs like access to clean water, education, indoor lights, and health care.
Off-Grid Solutions will be Crucial to Success
The United Nations developed 17 Sustainable Development Goals in 2015, and number 7 is access to clean and affordable energy for all.
Of the roughly one billion people without access to electricity, most are in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, according to the World Bank, which provides financing, advice, and research to developing nations to aid their economic advancement. The World Bank says this lack of electricity is a fundamental barrier to progress for a sizeable proportion of the world’s population. It comes as no surprise that it impacts a wide range of development indicators, such as health, education, food security, gender equality, and poverty reduction.
While steady progress has been made in providing access to electricity in the past decade, the biggest challenge remains the remote parts of the world. A World Bank report says, “To connect the poorest and hardest to reach households, off-grid solutions, including solar lighting, solar home systems, and increasingly mini grids, will be crucial.”
Access to Energy – Life is On
Schneider Electric started its ambitious Access to Energy program in 2009 to try and help meet this challenge. Since then, the program has helped 27 million people to access energy.
Access to Energy approaches its mission creatively. One of its many solutions provides energy for off-grid areas, another is for emergency situations with the ability to deploy on-site in less than 30 minutes, which is crucial for providing electricity in humanitarian emergencies. Another solution draws from the grid, solar panels, or batteries, depending on availability.
Let’s take a closer look at a specific project. It takes place on the northern Ivory Coast where Schneider Electric, along with the French Development Agency and the European Institute for Cooperation and Development, equipped a women’s agricultural cooperative with two mills, a kneading machine, and refrigerators powered by a 25kW solar microgrid. They supported trainings in accounting management, Microsoft Word, and the internet for the cooperative members and distributed 200 solar kits and lamps to the most vulnerable households of the village.
Beyond equipment, Schneider Electric partners with local and global non-profit education organizers to train the residents of these communities in the promising renewable energy job market and supports entrepreneurs in the energy field.
Schneider Electric is striving to provide access to electricity in places that don’t have it and I am optimistic about that access. It has the potential to make possible all the valuable things electricity enables, things that most of us – but not all – enjoy every day.
Learn more about the Schneider Electric Access to Energy program.
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