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Land, Labor and Capital: Lagos and Street Lamps

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Jun 26, 2013    •    984 Views

Where to start when you barely have electricity? Maybe street lamps.

The authority of the Lagos State Electricity Board does not cover big lighting issues that involve the Nigerian national grid. So instead, they are targeting street lamps. Including main streets, roads and alleys, only 30 of Lagos’s 3220 miles of roadways are lit. Many street lamps do not work, thieves cut wires to darken neighborhoods before a robbery, the copper in lighting cables is stolen and resold. They even have problems with taxi cab drivers who, losing their brakes, “…knock down poles like it’s bowling pins…” As a result, building a street lamp network is as much about vigilant repair as new construction.

Referring to street lamps, one electrician said, “The first time we [turn] on the light, the expression of people, you feel their joy.”

Here is the big picture for world electricity deficits:

Sub Saharan Africa has substantial electricity problems.

Sub Saharan Africa has substantial electricity problems.

Our bottom line: Replacing a street lamp bulb, creating street lighting or building an electrical grid involve decisions about mobilizing land, labor and capital.

Sources and resources: Led by the World Bank and the International Energy Agency, a multi-agency study is charting worldwide energy access. A 289 page document, the paper presents a wealth of information. I also recommend the more specific street lighting example in this WSJ (gated) article.

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