Ideas to Action:

Independent research for global prosperity


Views from the Center


We can all agree that it’s unconscionable that, in 2012, there are still 1.3 billion people without access to electricity. But there’s also that pesky problem of greenhouse gases cooking our planet. So, the big question is:  should we burn more fossil fuels like natural gas to help bring power to those without?

Round One:  I say yes, arguing here why the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, a US government agency, should change its rules to allow natural gas-fired plants (but not coal) in the 49 countries that are below 5% of US levels of income and CO2 emissions.  Compensating for our inability to impose carbon emission restrictions on ourselves by restricting the poor’s access to electricity is strategically and morally wrong.

Round Two:  DFID’s Hannah Ryder argues no over at Duncan Green’s Power to Poverty blog. I won’t summarize all her points, but the thrust of her critique is that “there is no good reason to expect that investment in conventional high-carbon energy will solve the energy access problem.”

Round Three:  Duncan asked me to respond, and that post is here.  My main points are:

  1. We definitely need lots more investment in power
  2. Off grid renewable is great for some, but most urban and industrial areas will still need old-school heavy power
  3. Natural gas almost certainly will be part of the mix

Regardless of who wins our little blogbattle, the bottom line is that too many people are still unable to switch on a light at night, run a water pump to irrigate their fields, or expand their businesses because they lack power. We can do better.


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.