A tailor in Senegal is growing his business because he has reliable electricity from solar panels. A woman in Uganda was recently able to watch the presidential debates in her country for the first time. In previous years, she was unable to view them and felt disconnected from the political process. Now that she has access to electricity she feels like a true citizen.
Grace Perkins ’14 is part of a global effort to increase experiences like this for millions more. Perkins works as a program analyst at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) on Power Africa, a U.S. government–led initiative whose mission is to enable electricity access in sub-Saharan Africa by adding 30,000 megawatts of power generation and connecting 60 million new households and businesses to power by 2030.
Based in Washington, D.C., Perkins’ job is to design programs and interventions that support electricity providers in sub-Saharan Africa to sustainably connect more people to power. She identifies public and private resources to help electric utilities provide affordable and reliable electricity to customers in the African region.
“Whether it’s households, hospitals, schools, universities or an agricultural processing center, we recognize that electricity is what really drives economic growth and industries in all countries,” Perkins says. “For us, those are the customers who need and want electricity, and they have our focus.”
The U.S. government launched Power Africa in 2013 to overcome sub-Saharan Africa’s energy challenges. Two out of three people in this region live without electricity, which equals around 600 million residents, according to Power Africa.
Many residents have resorted to expensive, often dangerous fuel sources such as kerosene to light their homes. Power Africa helps private companies harness diverse energy sources such as solar, wind, hydro, biomass and natural gas to bring electricity to the region.
Perkins’ role is to design activities that ensure reliable and affordable connectivity, including programs to help families and businesses pay connection fees that can be as high as $200 in some countries. A hefty price for many who live there, says Perkins, who has worked at USAID since 2015.
“One way we are able to make electricity more affordable is by promoting technological advances to reduce the cost of electrical wiring or helping structure funds to supplement customer payments,” Perkins says.
Small town, big aspirations
Perkins’ hometown of White Stone, on the Northern Neck in Virginia, had only one stoplight when she was growing up. When a Wal-Mart opened while she was in high school, a marching band welcomed the major retailer, and there was a town celebration. A saxophone player, Perkins was part of the marching band that welcomed the huge retailer to the area.
“I was always a small town girl with ambitions of seeing the rest of the world and always had a specific interest in Africa,” Perkins says. “I had an interest in people, service and things bigger than myself.”