California’s Blackout Is Africa’s Everyday Reality

Enforced power outages in the Golden State are a reminder that we’ll need energy and development to fight the effects of climate change

Todd Moss
OneZero
Published in
6 min readOct 14, 2019

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An Oakland police cruiser has its lights on in the Montclair shopping district during the PG&E California power outage.
An Oakland police cruiser flashes its lights in the Montclair shopping district during the PG&E power outage across California. Photo: MediaNews Group/Getty

PPower outages across California affecting some 2.5 million people have been creating chaos in the state. Traffic lights are down, refrigerators are off, schools are closed, including the University of California, Berkeley’s campus. Water utilities may be shut off too, impacting agriculture and access to clean drinking water. Public health is at risk as people reliant on ventilators and other medical devices scramble for backups, while hospitals may even have to temporarily close. Outraged Californians are panic-buying generators, batteries, gas, and bottled water. This is what happens when the power system — on which nearly all aspects of modern life and a modern economy rely — goes down.

Yet California’s traumatic week of erratic energy is the daily norm for billions of people around the world. While California’s shut-off might last five days or more, in Nigeria, home to 200 million, people experience power outages an average of 32 times per month. Unreliable energy is an everyday occurrence.

The typical American uses 13,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity per year versus just 150 kWh in Nigeria and less than 100 kWh in Ethiopia.

Even worse, policymakers, entrepreneurs, and philanthropists most often try to attack this global problem by exporting California’s approaches: Mitigate by reducing energy consumption and adapt by transitioning to small distributed generation. Unfortunately, these are the exact opposite of what Africa needs.

California’s climate strategy: mitigate via energy austerity and adapt by going small

Californians are trying to reduce the emissions that cause climate change through such measures as renewable energy mandates and efficiency targets. But Californians know that, while mitigation might blunt the worst-case scenarios, the effects of climate change are already happening. That’s why the state’s residents have…

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Todd Moss
OneZero
Writer for

Founder and executive director of the Energy for Growth Hub, nonres fellow at Baker Institute at Rice, Payne Institute at Colorado School of Mines, and CGD.