Eli, being Eli, has been excessively annoyed by the trolls at the Breakdown Institute. True, they are excellent trolls, whose mission in life is to demand the impossible and denigrate the possible, a tried and true tactic if your purpose is to block all progress and, indeed they do appear to be prospering.
But never mind. If you really must, go read their twitter blather. Eli enjoys trolling the trolls a bit, and you might too.
However, the real point of this post is to point out that thanks to modern progress there now are cell phones which have made it possible to erect a functioning telecommunications, entertainment, information and banking systems in very rural and very poor areas including the megaslums of third world cities. Eli would venture so far as to say that we have tools to electrify about every hut on the planet, if, by that you mean a light or two, a cell phone, and smart cell phones are pretty much mainframe computers compared to mainframe computers in the 1970s (remember the 1401 JohnM, first computer Eli ever programmed). As anybunny walking through the streets or fields knows there is all sorts of educational and entertaining stuff that can be seen through small screens and if you must have a computer there is always as Raspberry PI.
White LEDs and even compact fluorescents have brought down the amount of energy that has to be generated for lighting, and lighting is no small part of what makes life worth living (ask Abraham Lincoln) and of energy use. That Nobel Prize was well deserved. Maybe even some refrigeration. Refrigerators, insulation and compressors have become more effective and there might even be nanohelp for thermoelectrics. A small solar array, a small windmill, maybe a bigger village windmill and a couple of storage batteries is the way to the good, or at least much better, life.
Which brings Eli to the point, the point, or rather points that one can read in an IEA report on energy use and needs and Africa. In dense urban areas and even between then telephone poles carrying power from a central distribution system can be the most economical. However, Eli senses a certain optimism that in very poor areas those poles and the wires on them are going to stay up for long, a point that the report itself makes in describing oil harvesting in the Niger Delta.
Still, once you have to put up a long line to reach a small village, things change radically
and the graph on the left shows by how much. The graph on the right has a more interesting point for the Lomborg's of the world, who are claiming that Africa needs coal (like a hole in the head, sub-Saharan Africa will be hit harder by climate change than any other area, and even Tol agrees on that, as does just about every other IAM purveyor). The major cost per MWh of fossil fuel is the cost of the fuel. The amount of capital needed to build the generator is less than 5% or so. However, for solar PV, small hydro, and small wind capital costs are more than ~80% of the cost of power, operating costs are maybe the other 20%. Even now solar and wind are less expensive than fossil fuel, and they will be much less so in the future. They are orders of magnitude more deployable and not as subject to mayhem. Moreover, efficient modern lighting, telecommunications, cooling, other conveniences and necessities don't have large power draws.
That means that if anyone, are you there Bjorn, how about you Michael Shellenberger, really wanted to help Africa electrify they would be pushing investment by the developed countries to provide cheap to operate solar PV, small hydro and small wind to African communities, not coal and fossil fuel burning plants with expensive and constant fuel costs and the need of a hard to maintain electrical grid.