On Sunday, Bill Gates delivered a lecture at the University of Pretoria in South Africa in which he discussed his optimism for the future of Africa — and all the changes that need to happen for the continent to continue innovating.
An astounding 7 in 10 Africans still lack power, and over 500 million Africans won’t have electricity in 2040, according to Gates. Needless to say, a lack of electricity makes big ideas harder to pull off.
“In the long run, what Africa needs is what the whole world needs: a breakthrough energy miracle that provides cheap, clean energy for everyone,” Gates said during the Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture. He pointed to Mission Innovation, a collaboration between governments and businesspeople (like Gates) that aims to increase energy R&D spending throughout the world, as the kind of change we need.
This isn’t the first time Gates has called for an energy miracle. In a 2015 interview with Tech Insider, Gates offered more detail on what this might look like:
When I say “an energy miracle,” I mean that there will be some form of energy whose 24 hour cost really is competitive with hydrocarbons given, say, 20 years of learning curve. You invent it, then you look at how much its costs go down over the next 20 years, that it really beats hydrocarbons. You might say, well, aren’t people saying that about wind and solar today? Not really. Only in the super-narrow sense that the capital costs per output, when the wind is blowing, is slightly lower.
While the world waits for an energy source that beats hydrocarbons, Gates suggests that Africa (especially East Africa) should invest in renewable sources like geothermal and hydropower.
Governments and nonprofits have also launched numerous initiatives in recent years to give people access to rooftop solar. But Gates doesn’t think it’s enough.”There has been a lot of experimentation with small-scale renewable energy, including micro solar,” he said during the lecture. “This approach can provide individuals with some electricity for basic purposes, but it’s not going to be the solution for the continent as a whole.”