Powering Earth’s Unplugged: Overcoming Barriers to Electricity Benefits Billions

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Hubwonk transcript, November 14, 2023: Robert Bryce on energy

Joe Selvaggi: [00:00:00] This is Hubwonk. I’m Joe Selvaggi. Welcome to Hubwonk, a podcast of Pioneer Institute, a think tank in Boston. From the early days of the Industrial Revolution, cheap energy has been the unsung hero behind monumental shifts in how we work, live, and connect. But nearly half the world’s population lives on less electricity than is needed to annually power a U.S. refrigerator. More starkly, about 800 million people live entirely in the dark with no access to electricity at all. Beyond the grinding poverty that attends not having access to modern machines and appliances, those with little or no electricity suffer from poor health for reasons such as lung disease caused by burning biofuels such as dung to heat their homes.

What are the reasons that so much of the world lacks access to adequate electricity? And how does the developed world’s view of the importance of financing and building new power plants in the unplugged world, particularly when filtered through an environmental [00:01:00] lens, affect the rate of electrification amongst the world’s poorest, underpowered people?

My guest today is Robert Bryce, prolific energy journalist, author, and writer of the recent piece for the Alliance for Responsible Citizenship entitled, Powering the Unplugged, Overcoming the Barriers to Electrification in the Developing World. Mr. Bryce examines the historic relationship between electrification and wealth and describes how corruption and other factors hinder wider access to electric power.

We’ll discuss how the institutions in the developed world help to underwrite new power sources in emerging economies, the environmental concerns associated with power source alternatives, and the costs measured in suffering and lives for any substantial delays towards electrification of the unplugged. When I return, I’ll be joined by energy journalist and writer, Robert Bryce.[00:02:00]

Okay, we’re back. This is Hubwonk. I’m Joe Selvaggi. I’m now pleased to be joined by energy expert and author, Robert Bryce. Welcome back to Hubwonk, Robert.

Robert Bryce: I’m happy to be with you, Joe. Although expert, I’m always careful about that. My dad used to say an expert’s anybody from out of town. I’m an energy reporter, energy writer, expert. I’m still working on that.

Joe Selvaggi: Fair enough. We appreciate your modesty. Okay. Let’s jump in. I, I want to do a podcast, to talk about your recent piece that you wrote for the Alliance for Responsible Citizenship entitled Powering the Unplugged. I think our listeners can benefit from some of the insight it offers. It’s really, I think, written and gets to a very important point. Before we get into your piece, you wrote it for the Alliance for Responsible Citizenship. I recently got a lecture from Jordan Peterson forwarded to me. They’re doing some work and I hadn’t heard of them until recently. So, what are they doing in this space?

Robert Bryce: Sure. It’s a new outfit and it was founded by Jordan Peterson, Bjorn Lomborg, [00:03:00] Phillip Estroud, who’s a member of the House of Lords in the U.K., funded, I think, initially by the Legatum Institute, which is a think tank based in London. And their whole thesis, I think I can boil it down, is we need a better narrative for what we’re doing. We need to be more optimistic about the future, and we need more civic engagement, civic responsibility. I was flattered to be invited to write this paper. I was commissioned to write the paper for them because, and I think Bjorn Lomborg connected me with them, but the conference was held in London at the end of October and early, I think it was the 30th, 31st, and 1st of November and a remarkable conference. And I’ve been to a bunch of conferences, but this one was really quite inspiring in that there was just a vibe of, we’re going to, we try and reinvigorate ideas about who we are and what we’re trying to achieve as responsible citizens and trying to be engaged. And how do we change the narrative and have a — what are their tagline is, the better story we’re going to, we’re going to tell a better story about optimism and an abundance and human flourishing.

Joe Selvaggi: Well, good. Human flourishing is what we’re all [00:04:00] about on this podcast as well. So, let’s get to it. I like your piece offer some stark observations and assertions. And I’m going to — forgive me if I oversummarize, but let me just say a couple of key points. First is, nearly a billion people have no access to electricity at all. Second, that nearly half the world has very limited access to electricity.

I think the equivalent half the world has had the equivalent of the power needed to run an American refrigerator. and then third is that access to electricity nearly perfectly correlates with health, wealth, better lives for women and children. I before we get kicked off, I want to put 1 from the introduction of your piece.

I’ll quote you and say, “electricity matters because it is the ultimate poverty killer. No matter where you look, as electricity uses use has increased, so has economic growth. Having electricity does not guarantee wealth, but its absence almost always means poverty. Indeed, electricity and economic growth go hand in hand.” So, that’s setting the stage. So, let’s start at the beginning with the first answer. How is it that 800 million people, or roughly two and a half [00:05:00] times the U. S. or twice the size of Europe, have no, effectively no access to power at all?

Robert Bryce: Well, we only have 30 minutes, Joe. So, get to the chase here! But let me just read the entire title of the piece, because I think that helps tee it up as well. So it’s called powering the unplugged, overcoming the barriers to electrification in the developing world. And so, what you’re asking is, what are those barriers for that 800 million people who have no access to electricity and further the, the several billion — 3.7 billion — who are living in electricity poverty or in countries that where electricity poverty is rampant. So, there are many reasons, of course, one is geography, some areas are very remote. But one of the biggest reasons is very frankly, corruption. so now the corruption in rural Niger or in, Zimbabwe or rural parts of Africa is going to be different in character from what the corruption is in Beirut.

And I’ve been in Beirut. It’s gonna be different from some of the big corruption in India, but that corruption is one of the biggest hurdles that is [00:06:00] we have to overcome in the effort to bring more people out of the dark and into the light, when and so you look at Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, they’ve spent tens of billions of dollars trying to upgrade their grid.

But continually, people steal the electricity or the people who are running the grid steal the money or the — some of the equipment gets stolen. So, in societies where theft and corruption is endemic, the grids reflect the society. And that’s a point that I’ve made over and over. Electric grids reflect the society that they power. So, if you have a corrupt society, your grid is not going to work very well, because they leak too much. The system leaks too much. The money just flows out, and people don’t pay for power and the people who run — who are in power — steal the power, give it to their cronies, whatever. But that’s one of the biggest hurdles. And it’s one of the challenges that I think can be overcome with a couple of different strategies, one of which is micro-grids, but that’s a brief overview.

Joe Selvaggi: Let’s not get too far ahead. Okay. I appreciate your corruption. that’s perhaps a problem [00:07:00] everywhere and always. But let’s see, you have thresholds again. I say 800 million people or essentially 10 percent of mankind has no power. And I think our listeners might think, geez, they can’t plug in their iPhones or something. I’m like, no, that means you’re having babies in the dark with no light and no means of refrigerating antibiotics because you have no power. So that’s pretty bad. You have another threshold, which is, as you mentioned, the partially unplugged or people who have limited access to power. I mentioned the threshold of 12 — you in your paper mentioned 1200 kilowatt hours per year — which is roughly the power an American uses to power their refrigerator during the year. How many people are there? Give us some sense of who these countries are, who has nothing, who has something, what does this lower half of electrification look like?

Robert Bryce: So in the report, I lovingly call it the trifurcated donut. So, you have the unplugged world, which we’ve talked about before, 3.7 billion people who are using less than 1,200 kilowatt hours per capita per year. [00:08:00] You have in the low-watt world, which is what you were referencing, the people there about 1.3 billion who use between 1,200 kilowatt hours and 4,000 kilowatt hours. And then we live in the high-watt world, so above 4,000 kilowatt hours. And so I picked those cutoffs. The 4,000 is key because, several years ago, a scientist named Alan Pasternak arrived on that number as and found that the human development index doesn’t improve much when people use more than 4,000 kilowatt hours per capita per year, but below that, the human development index deteriorates. So, those are the cutoffs that I use and also use the 1,200 kilowatt hours as a convenient cut off because people, they can visualize a refrigerator. It’s hard to visualize a watt hour, but those were the ways that I divided or trisected the world.

Joe Selvaggi: And those regions we’ve talked about, Africa being on the bottom. In your paper, you mentioned some of those emerging markets, such as, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh. These are some of the, let’s say, they have power, but not nearly as much as they need. [00:09:00] Again, just as you can’t imagine a kilowatt hour, we can’t imagine who we are talking about when we talk about these underpowered countries.

Robert Bryce: Sure. And another way to think about it. I pride myself on my numbers, Joe, and I work hard on, making graphics that are simple. So, I also have a graphic in the paper where I point out that just three countries, Pakistan, Indonesia, and India, there’s 1.9 billion people just in those three countries. That’s 24 percent of the world’s population. And those three countries alone are in the unplugged world. You know, 24 percent, just in those three countries are unplugged. And so, the disparity is, as I say in the paper, this disparity between the electricity rich and the electricity poor is the defining inequality of our time.

Joe Selvaggi: So, okay, so rather than just say, okay, we don’t have power, let’s put a bigger face on this. You say that the poverty that comes with having no electricity doesn’t fall to everyone equally. It’s particularly bad for women and for the education of children. Say more about why women are particularly vulnerable to an unpowered world.

Robert Bryce: Sure. So, I could talk about this for hours and I write about it in my latest book, A Question of Power, and one of my heroes are the new among my heroes are the new dealers in the United States here. So FDR, worked with Burton Wheeler from Montana and George Norris from Nebraska and they along with Sam Rayburn in Texas, And those three legislators, they were all in Congress under FDR. They passed the Public Utility Holding Company Act of 1935, Rural Electrification Act of 1936. What were among their chief motivations? Well, read their biographies, particularly George Norris from Nebraska. It was to free farm women from the drudgery of farm work, and Norris writes about it in his autobiography, and I quoted in the piece, but the back to your point, why does electricity matter so much to women and girls?

It frees them from the pump, the stove in the washtub. And Lyndon Johnson is another one of my political heroes. He saw his mother wash clothes by hand. And so, when he got into office — he got to Washington in 1937 — but he was an [00:11:00] avid advocate for rural electrification because he saw what was happening. So, every — to get back to women and girls — every hour, every minute, every day that women and girls are having to haul water, having to cook food with biomass, having to, you know, attend to these menial chores, is an hour a minute a day that they aren’t in school, they aren’t in the library, can’t work outside the home. So, electricity is important for every human being, but it’s particularly important for women and girls.

And it’s particularly important when it comes to cooking because roughly 3 million people per year, most of them, women and girls are dying premature deaths because of indoor air pollution because they’re using wood, wheat straw, dung, etc., inside their homes to cook food.

Joe Selvaggi: Yeah, and you raised ahead, I want to ask you about those again. we talk about indoor air pollution when you’re burning dung. as you say, in your paper, 1.6 million extra people die because of indoor air pollution from burning biomass of dung. You also, again, getting back to your New Deal. We don’t talk [00:12:00] very often about good things about the New Deal in this podcast, so here we go. But you also correlate the sort of liberation of women through electrification with the rise of the women’s suffrage movement. Now, we can never know causation as nothing’s monocausal, but it may have contributed. In fact, if you’ve got, if you say you’ve got liberated from mundane tasks, you have more time to advocate for yourself in the public square that is, voting. So, say more about that.

Robert Bryce: Sure. Well, it is interesting and causation or correlation doesn’t prove causation to your point, but women’s suffrage very neatly parallels the rise of electrification. And what did electrification mean in the big cities? It was that women, well particularly that women — and if they could have rural electrification happened slowly — but electricity in the cities allowed women to move from rural areas into the cities and have independent lives because they could go to work in the factories. So, there were opportunities that were afforded by electricity that made that were key, I think, in this continuing education and empowerment of women all around the world.

Joe Selvaggi: Okay, so I don’t want to beat this too hard. We’re gonna stipulate now that electricity correlates with all kinds of good things, health, wellbeing of all citizens, OK. So, let’s jump to power. We’ve established a lot of the world doesn’t have any power, but a lot of the world does have plenty of power. Where is all the power of the world coming from? What are the sources of electricity, around the world? Wow do we generate electricity?

Robert Bryce: Sure. Well, the historical parallel here, of course, is 1882, when Thomas Edison starts the first central power plant in lower Manhattan on Pearl Street, and he burned coal. Well, now that’s 141 years ago, and today, still, coal is the dominant fuel globally in electricity generation. Now, it’s no longer the dominant fuel here in the United States. And in Western Europe coal consumption is declining, but it’s continuing to rise in Asia.[00:14:00] Last year, China permitted two new coal fired power plants per week. The IEA, the International Energy Agency, earlier this year, estimated that global coal demand will reach another, hit another new record this year, 8.4 billion tons. So, coal remains a critical part of the global electricity mix when it comes to generation, and it’s going to continue to be that way for decades to come.

Germany is reopening some of its coal plants because they don’t have Russian gas anymore. So, I think in terms of total — coal provides 36% of global generation. Natural gas is 23%, hydro 15%, wind and solar combined about 10%, which is about the same as nuclear, about 10%. Then the rest of it is a few single-digit percentage points with oil and biomass making up the rest.

Joe Selvaggi: So your point, your paper goes into detail. As you say, you like numbers. There’s plenty of them in that paper you mentioned. I think it’s since 1985 to now the percentage of power that comes from coal has remained somewhat stable. I think in a few percentage points. So, despite the fact [00:15:00] that we say, okay, coal is dirty. We don’t like it. We want to leave it in the ground. Nevertheless, its demand continues to grow. You mentioned in your paper places like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh. Why wouldn’t they want to shift their power away from coal and at least move more toward something like natural gas that we can all accept is although not perfect, it certainly has a lot cleaner than coal.

Robert Bryce: Sure. It comes down to very simple points about well, what’s their resource availability? We in the United States, we are, we have, it’s not just abundant natural gas, super abundant natural gas. And that is the result of now more than a century of oil and gas drilling. So, a lot of the natural gas that’s being produced today in the United States is coming up out of the ground as associated gas. This is gas that just happens to be coming up with oil in the mix and the oil companies are selling the oil, but they didn’t really drill for gas, but they’re just getting it, to use a Cajun term, as a lagniappe. This is just an extra. But China, Bangladesh, India, they, these are countries, that [00:16:00] Vietnam, they don’t have a lot of natural gas. And so one of the reasons they’re not using gas is that they’re having to import it, much of it in the form of LNG. And so, LNG into the European market now is selling for five times the price of domestic gas here in the U.S. At Henry Hub, it’s today, I don’t know, something like $3.50. In Europe today, I think it’s around $15. So, there’s a price differential. There’s a network into a difference in terms of our pipelines. And overall, just massive amounts of production of gas that are coming out of the U.S.

Joe Selvaggi: So, in a nutshell, they choose the dirtier source because it’s a cheaper source and their population wants all the benefits of electrification, in a nutshell.

Robert Bryce: Well, yes, and this is what I call the iron law of electricity, which is people, businesses and countries will do whatever they have to do to get the electricity they need. And that includes burning coal. The politicians understand the importance of electricity and they know that if their people are in the dark, they’re probably their office, their position in power is in jeopardy. So, keeping the lights on is very good for [00:17:00] politics.

Joe Selvaggi: So, getting to politics, you mentioned earlier, I want to return to this idea that, we can largely attribute the lack of electrification in many places to a deep corruption within their society, within their governments, say more about why, let’s say, power industries are so vulnerable to corruption, or perhaps are now no more vulnerable than other industries. It seems to me it’s particularly rife with corruption, energy, say more about why you think that might be?

Robert Bryce: To be clear, Joe, and I didn’t go into this much in detail in the paper, but, there’s some countries where, poverty is so extreme that they don’t have capital. And so, the thing about economic growth, and I think it’s essential to understand, is electricity feeds economic growth and economic growth feeds electricity demand. So, they go hand in hand. And one of the things that happened in the New Deal in the U. S. was that there were agencies that were created to help women borrow money so they could use washing machines so that they would use more electricity.

So, there was, in addition to providing electricity, [00:18:00] there was also a very, a concurrent effort to stimulate demand. So, the lack of capital, it’s not just the corruption, it’s a problem, but you can imagine in some poverty-stricken region in South Asia, in Africa, the people don’t have any money, right?

They’re just struggling to buy firewood or propane. The idea that they’re going to go ahead and buy a lot more electricity and have an electric stove or a washing machine or something — you have to stage these electric grids and have the demand and the generation grow together. Well, to make that happen, you have to have that virtuous cycle of capital coming in and continuous capital flows.

So, it’s a very complex — electric grids are very complex systems. And they have to be built in a way that makes sense for whatever geography they’re located in. So, that’s one of the reasons why I think micro-grids, despite some drawbacks, very clear ones, that’s a way forward in a lot of these developing countries because of their scale problem can be addressed from the beginning.

Joe Selvaggi: I’m glad you segue to the [00:19:00] micro-grids, because that’s where I was going with this. Again, if a large, top-down government seems to be, let’s say, insufficient or fails because of corruption or lack of access to capital from the bottom up, you mentioned places like Lebanon, whereby half the power, the government more or less provides half a day’s worth of power.

And after that, you got to go out into these micro-grids and find your own. It seems to me, a natural market is or arguably a black market, but a market nevertheless, is emerging in these kinds of countries, which is people take it into their own hands. They figure out how to make power on their own and distribute that in a meaningful way.

Robert Bryce: And it’s a really interesting lesson in one, politics, but also capitalism and markets. And you talked about Beirut. And Lebanon is a mess, from a whole lot of different angles. And of course, now we’re looking at potential war between Lebanon and Israel. And of course, the Iranians back Hezbollah, and Hezbollah controls big swaths of territory in Lebanon, including in Beirut, where Hezbollah neighborhoods, [00:20:00] the people there don’t pay for their power. They get the electricity for free because they’ve essentially got the government over a barrel, but the electricity, they do leave on to your point, they can’t provide power even half the day. Sometimes in Beirut, they’ll provide two, three hours a day. So, what happens is people rely on the generator mafia and these are, that’s the term that they use there.

And everyone who knows who the generator mafia is, but their local entrepreneurs who have a small, relatively small generator, it might be one, two, three megawatts. And they sell subscriptions to people in different neighborhoods. And so, when the power, the central grid goes out, their grid goes on. And so, people can continue to wash their clothes or run their refrigerators or do all these other things that they need to do, but they fill that gap. So, these are micro-grids that have popped up in the lack, to fill the space that is left by the holes left by the grid operator. So, the reason I talk about them in the paper is because they are a viable alternative to, like I mentioned, Nigeria. [00:21:00] Well, if you have an entire country that’s corrupt, you’re going to have a lot of leakage trying to electrify the whole country. Well, then once you start in a neighborhood or, so it’s much easier to assure the integrity of the grid. And that’s key. You have to assure the integrity, make sure people pay their bills. In a small area, and if you can start there, you can expand it. But that’s one of the reasons why micro-grids are a viable option, whether it’s diesel gensets and batteries or just diesel gensets, diesel batteries, solar. There are a lot of ways that this that those kind of micro-grids can work.

Joe Selvaggi: All right, so I want to tie together a bunch of the themes that we’ve already addressed in your book to — or in your paper — to get to what I think is the meat of the argument. So, we’ve established that access to abundant electricity offers people way out of poverty to more healthy, productive life.

We said that half the world at least is well below reasonable levels of access to electricity. They’re underpowered. Let’s say, therefore, we want to encourage the rest of the world to electrify more quickly benefit of everyone, particularly the poor. It seems to me there’s rather one large hitch when we talk about [00:22:00] capitalization of these potential energy sources. And that’s the world’s priority on climate, meaning the climate oriented or climate-conscious people or climate-concerned people aren’t happy with coal. Even though it’s powering what, 40 percent of the world? I want to talk about a case study used in your paper to illustrate your point. You talk about U.S. loan commitments to Angola, an African country that maybe some of our listeners haven’t listed, don’t know, but it’s a poor country. And, the I.M. Bank made a $900 million or billion dollar commitment to solar renewable project in, in Angola to quote, “help Angola meet its climate commitments.” Let’s talk about this, because I think it, it’s really a case study that, that shows so much about the logic. Sure. How much power does Angola use relative to the us? I don’t know if you have the paper in front of you, but…

Robert Bryce: So this, I wrote about this on my Substack by the way, Robert Bryce.substack.com, and I included it in the Powering the Unplugged paper because to me it’s such a stark example of this what, Vijaya [00:23:00] Ramachandran calls climate colonialism or carbon colonialism. So, in June, the president, President Biden, appeared before the League of Conservation Voters event and announced gleefully that the Export Import Bank of the United States was making a $900 million loan to the country of Angola to help Angola build a solar project. Well, this makes no sense whatsoever, Joe. Angola is a member of OPEC. They’re a resource-rich country, but a relatively poor country. Nevertheless, they have enormous amounts of natural gas. If this were if we were the punchline, the way this why this is important and why this lending and why this paternalistic attitude by these bilateral and multilateral lenders like Export Import Bank, World Bank matters, is that they’ve refused to now finance coal plants. In many cases, they’re refusing to finance gas-fired power plants or any hydrocarbon projects whatsoever. The punchline here is we should be making electrification the first goal, not emissions reduction. And that yet was then yet emissions reduction was [00:24:00] almost the sole focus of the project in Angola, where the per-capita CO2 emissions are six tenths of a ton per year in the U.S. they’re 25 times that. So, the site and the export import bank, this is the punchline. And the press release said, Oh, this project is going to help Angola meet its climate commitments. It was like, come on, it’s just insane. It’s ludicrous on its face. Its climate commitments? This country’s desperately poor. Why are we even worried? Why would you even say that? It’s just dumb on its face.

Joe Selvaggi: That’s right. And they don’t have the power for a light bulb, let alone their climate commitment. But what I thought was interesting about your paper is Angola is just one of many countries that, as you mentioned earlier in the show, the reason they don’t have power plants is many times they don’t have the capital to build a power plant. And a well-intentioned West, the U. S. with our resources can help underwrite a power plant that will have this virtuous cycle of wealth.

Robert Bryce: They need capital. These countries need capital. They don’t have the banking system that we have. They don’t have the mature systems of risk and insurance that [00:25:00] we have. And yet we’re acting like, Oh, you can’t electrify in the same way that we did. You don’t deserve it. You aren’t, we’re not going to allow it. And I don’t use this word very often, Joe, but it’s immoral. It’s not just immoral, it’s freaking outrageous that the West and Western countries would act this way. And this has been a big part of the whole climate push internationally is to prevent the allocation of capital into developing countries that want to use hydrocarbons. I just find that disgusting.

Joe Selvaggi: So, Angola is, you use that in your case study. And again, it’s almost absurd because it is so poor. It has the energy resource-rich oil and gas. And yet we offer them solar panels. Is that just one instance? Are there other instances? Is the rest of the world that’s trying to get out of this grinding poverty by electrifying itself? Is that happening elsewhere? And essentially, is the U. S. denying access to capital for anything other than wind and solar?

Robert Bryce: I wouldn’t, I can’t make that broad of a statement because there’s private lending happening, but the history of this is [00:26:00] very clear. Back in 2013, during the Obama administration, there was pressure groups, these climate activist groups started pressuring the administration and then about that same time, the federal government announced that it wasn’t going to provide that Export Import Bank wasn’t going provide financing for a coal-fired power plant in Vietnam. In 2018, the World Bank. announce that they weren’t going to support any more coal-fired power plants. So, who’s stepping into the breach here? It’s not just that the West is going to deny capital. The Western countries, the U.S. and Western Europe. Who’s stepping into the breach? China. Who’s stepping into the breach? Russia. there’s a very clear kind of increasing polarization around these issues around climate and energy availability. And I think the U. S. is on the wrong side.

Joe Selvaggi: So, if you track that, you say, okay, you have a poor country. It wants power. It’s got two choices. and let’s say coal or natural gas versus solar and wind. You measured in your piece in one, I think, important graphic and said, okay, we’ve got X number of dollars, a fixed number of dollars to spend on power plants, the difference between the [00:27:00] power that would be offered from coal versus power that we offer from solar. A big difference in how much power and how expensive that power — say more about that if you’ve got those numbers in front of you.

Robert Bryce: Sure, this is a direct, I you know I stole this right and they’re the old line is amateurs borrow professional steal I stole it. My friend, Todd Moss who when was it? It was back in I think in 2021 he and a colleague put together. No, I’m sorry. It was 2014. The gist of the study was that if investing in multilateral lenders put up a gas-fired power plants, they’d get for an equal amount of investment about $10 billion, you could actually provide some access to electricity to about 60 million more people with a natural gas-fired portfolio than just using wind and solar. So, there’s a real discrepancy in a real human impact here. And so why does this matter? I’ll say it again. The focus of the West in this and this enormous challenge should not be emissions reduction, it should be electrification [00:28:00] first, as well as clean cooking fuels — propane, butane — to countries where women are having to use biomass. But the focus should be first on energy poverty reduction, not emissions reductions.

Joe Selvaggi: Indeed, I again, so I want to pull one more quote. We’re running out of time. You cite a 2022 Wall Street Journal, article from Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni, entitled “Solar and Wind Force Poverty on Africa.” In the article, he writes, quote, Africa can’t sacrifice its future prosperity for Western climate goals as Africa will have to use fossil fuels as it makes the transition.

Western aid industrial complex composed of nongovernmental organizations and state development agencies has poured money into wind and solar projects across the continent. This earns them praise in the U. S. and Europe, but leaves many Africans with unreliable and expensive electricity that depends on diesel generators or batteries on overcast or still days.

He concludes with Africans have a right to use reliable, cheap energy, and doing so [00:29:00] does not prevent the development of the continent’s renewables. Forcing Africa down one route will hinder our fight against poverty. In other words, he’s saying, yeah, we’ll go down the renewable alley, but my gosh, we’re dying here, we’re in the dark, where is your morality here? So, say more about that.

Robert Bryce: Where’s your morality? Where is your humanity? And that’s one of my favorite lines. And I, my friend Pat McCormick in Washington said, you know, he prompted me on energy realism is energy humanism. And I’ve adopted that whole hog. I love that line. Energy realism is energy humanism. We need more energy realism. We’re giving solar panels to Angola? This is the equivalent of let them eat cake. Let them eat solar panels. No, damn it. No, that’s wrong. It’s immoral. These people need more, they need reliable, affordable, resilient power and energy systems. We should be helping them build them to the extent that we can. And the ability to the extent that we can is limited. Some of these countries are going to have to make this happen themselves. But [00:30:00] I think that a lot of this refusal to provide capital to provide technical assistance and other things is just outrageous. And so, I think humanism is what we need more of. We need more focus on, one quick more, one last metric. Up to three million women and girls are dying every year from indoor air pollution around the world.

Three million people died during COVID. Okay, so fine. We shut down the world economy because of COVID. We have COVID every year because of indoor air pollution. That’s the level of mortality, excess mortality we’re seeing because of this reliance on over reliance on traditional biomass in poor countries and it’s affecting women and girls.

So why isn’t that an issue? Why aren’t we more outraged about that? I think this is something that deserves a lot more attention. I hope my paper makes some difference and toward that goal.

Joe Selvaggi: Indeed, I hope climate-oriented people are concerned about climate. Really, I have at the core concern for human beings. I mean, the planet is a priority, but human [00:31:00] beings matter most.

Joe Selvaggi: We’ve had shows talking about the fact that, deaths from weather have, gone down 99%. And we still talk about this, the climate warming in apocalyptic terms. I think, okay, good. I want people happy and healthy too. We’re not talking about some, a tribe on a remote island with no electricity. We’re talking about half of mankind and we’re giving them both ends of the rope or whatever metaphor you want to use. I think, I hope if there’s a call to action is that we should, as you say, prioritize on energy provision.

It’s equally as important and I would argue far more important than our long term climate goals. Sure, we have climate goals  as the African quote from Uganda mentioned, we want to get there. We want solar and wind, my gosh, we’re starving today. So anyway, I’ve had my rant, you’ve had yours.

I want our listeners who, if it was piqued their interest, where can they learn more about you, your writing, your podcast, where can our listeners find Robert Bryce?

Robert Bryce: [00:32:00] Sure. Well, I’m easy to find on the Google, Joe. So,. I’m on TikTok. I’m on YouTube. I’m on Instagram. I’m on LinkedIn, Twitter, at power hungry at PWR hungry, but I’m pushing everyone toward my substack, Robert Bryce dot substack.com. That’s where I’m doing all my writing lately. and I’m proud of that. Robert Bryce dot substack. com. And then also the Power Hungry podcast. I have great fun with that. And then I also have a new documentary coming out in January called Juice Power Politics and the Grid. But maybe when that comes out, I can come back on. We can pitch that because I’m proud of that project.

Joe Selvaggi: Wonderful, very eye opening again that we’ve been talking about. So I get it correct your piece in ARC, “Powering the Unplugged: Overcoming the Barriers to Electrification in the Developing World, which should be a cause. I hope for all our listeners who have concerns for their fellow.

Fellow person on this earth. So, thank you for joining my podcast hub wonk. thank you for being a guest again, Robert, you’re always a fund of information and, an intriguing thought [00:33:00] leader. Thank you for your time.

Robert Bryce: Thanks a million, Joe.

Joe Selvaggi: This has been another episode of Hubwonk. If you enjoyed today’s show, there are several ways to support Hubwonk and Pioneer Institute. It would be easier for you and better for us if you subscribe to Hubwonk on your iTunes Podcatcher. It would make it easier for others to find us if you offer a five star rating or a favorable review.

We’re grateful if you share Hubwonk with friends. If you have ideas or comments or suggestions for me about future episode topics, you’re welcome to email me at hubwonk at pioneerinstitute. org. Please join me next week for a new episode of Hubwonk.[00:34:00]

Joe Selvaggi talks with energy journalist Robert Bryce about his views on the benefits and barriers to bringing cheap, abundant electricity to the nearly 4 billion people without access.


Robert Bryce is a Texas-based author, journalist, podcaster, film producer, and public speaker. Over the past three decades, his articles have appeared in numerous publications including the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, National Review, Field & Stream, and Austin Chronicle. Bryce has published six books. His first book, Pipe Dreams: Greed, Ego, and the Death of Enron, received rave reviews and was named one of the best non-fiction books of 2002 by Publishers Weekly. His second book, Cronies: Oil, the Bushes, and the Rise of Texas, America’s Superstate, was published in 2004. His third book, Gusher of Lies: The Dangerous Delusions of “Energy Independence,” published in March 2008, was favorably reviewed by more than 20 media outlets. The American magazine called Gusher “a strong and much-needed dose of reality.” A review of Gusher by William Grimes of the New York Times said that Bryce “reveals himself in the end as something of a visionary and perhaps even a revolutionary.” Bryce has given nearly 400 invited or keynote lectures to dozens of groups including the Marine Corps War College, Sydney Institute, Jadavpur University, Northwestern University, and a wide variety of professional associations and corporations. He has also appeared on dozens of TV and radio shows including NPR, BBC, MSNBC, Fox, Al Jazeera, CNN, and PBS. He spent 12 years as a reporter for the Austin Chronicle. From 2006 to 2010, he was the managing editor of the Houston-based Energy Tribune. From 2010 to 2019, he was a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. From April 2020 to September 2021, Bryce was a visiting fellow at the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity.