There has never been a time electricity has indeed become essential service to our survival than today. Yes, it has been proved and called upon again and again that modern energy service in all its forms is fundamental to societies’ social, economic and environmental progress. In the face of COVID-19, it has even become more essential to our survival.
Now, we are in an urgent call to sideline policies, regulations, directives and working procedures to ensure hospitals, clinics, health centers and medical storage facilities are powered with the available energy sources. Most of the rural health centers in Ethiopia are either powered by off-grid power sources or not powered at all. That means, there is a strong chance that they receive unreliable power supply during the night or not having any power supply at all. Backup generators are key.
It is time to enhance cooperation in mobilizing available Diesel generators in government, NGO and business offices in the urban centers and where there is a relative grid access, and the government taking the responsibility of refueling, mapping locations, transporting and onsite installations. If some can forgo house rents, salaries, building facilities and homes why not generators in our backyards, doing nothing now any way.
There is too a renewed call by the global organizations to distribute all available electricity solutions to power remote health centers. Damilola Ogunbiyi, CEO, Sustainable Energy for All, highlights the importance of energy security in the fight of the COVID_19 pandemic in her recent article published at WEF.
In the article, she argues that "Social distancing and stay-at-home measures being adopted in many countries are predicated on an important assumption that populations have access to reliable, affordable electricity to stay connected and continue to communicate with public services and one another remotely, a luxury measure not all countries can afford; the ability for doctors and first responders to treat infected populations is also based on the assumption that clinics, medical equipment and medicines are fully functioning with access to sufficient, uninterrupted, reliable electricity where in reality only about 28% of health facilities have access to reliable electricity in parts of Sub-Saharan Africa; And even when treatments become available, a lack of a cold chain and refrigeration would mean rural, vulnerable populations cannot access vaccines".
She also stressed that “lack of access to energy has the potential to magnify the human catastrophe and significantly slow the global recovery if action is not taken now”.
In a positive note, businesses are also calling all stakeholders to take a coordinated action to power every health facility with off-grid solutions labeling energy as an essential service.
Bill Lenihan, CEO, Zola Electric, warns that “Africa could lose the battle against COVID-19 without access to energy and calls for more capital and the ability to operate as an essential energy service”.
For Ethiopia, it is time to work together with the local off-grid energy distributers and their vendors of how to mobilize the available off-grid solutions in their inventories to the places that need an immediate power supply, and not in the usual pace. Late is no use for any one of us. In fact, by forging dialogue, this could be an opportunity for the government to support the off grid sector players to weather the upcoming crises while fulfiling the common health sector demands and social responsibilities now.
These couple of months are normally the driest seasons for Ethiopia which is hydro dependent and it is important to prioritize the power plants water flow to ensure all time grid electricity power supply for hospitals, health centers and facilities now and for the months to come. This may be the right time to start planning for a fast track IPP options in case of emergency as well.
While ensuring the electricity security, it is also the time for the utility to protect the lowest bracket of consumers waiving electricity charges or delaying disconnections or transferring payments for good times when deemed necessary and most importantly, enhancing employee’s safety and wellbeing in the work places as employees’ endure to sustain the most critical service during these difficult times.
Now is the time to spend more and save lives and electricity should be one of the key priorities in this difficult time. We are all together in this.