Bill Gates believes Africa needs an "energy miracle"

As he pledges $5bn to the continent's development...

Microsoft founder and latter-day philanthropist Bill Gates delivered a talk at the University of Pretoria in South Africa on Sunday, and used it to argue that "cheap, clean energy" is required for Africa to have a bright future.

Whilst adopting an optimistic tone, Gates said that a major breakthrough was needed, and offered a number of worrying statistics about the current state of the region's energy infrastructure.

Currently, seven in 10 Africans still lack power, while over 500 million Africans still won't have electricity by 2040.

Delivering his Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture, he said:

"In the long run, what Africa needs is what the whole world needs: a breakthrough energy miracle that provides cheap, clean energy for everyone."

"When I say 'an energy miracle'," he continued, "I mean that there will be some form of energy whose 24 hour cost really is competitive with hydrocarbons given, say, 20 years of learning curve.

"You invent it, then you look at how much its costs go down over the next 20 years, that it really beats hydrocarbons.

"You might say, well, aren’t people saying that about wind and solar today? Not really. Only in the super-narrow sense that the capital costs per output, when the wind is blowing, is slightly lower."

In the mean time, Gates recommends increased investment in renewables, such as hydropower and geothermal energy.

He argued that solar power initiatives recently launched by some countries and nonprofits have not been enough.

"There has been a lot of experimentation with small-scale renewable energy, including micro solar.

"This approach can provide individuals with some electricity for basic purposes, but it’s not going to be the solution for the continent as a whole."

Mission Innovation, a collaboration between governments and businesspeople to increase energy R&D spend, was singled out as potentially ushering in the change we need.

Meanwhile Gates himself took the opportunity to pledge to invest $5bn over the next five years into Africa's development.

Harking back to the inspiration for his philanthropic work, and marking Nelson Mandela's birthday today (July 18th), he said:

"The theme of this year's Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture is 'living together'. This is fitting, because in many ways, 'living together' was also the theme of Nelson Mandela's life.

"He (Mandela) called to ask me to help fund South Africa's election.

"I was running Microsoft and thinking about software most of my waking hours. But I admired Nelson Mandela very much, I knew the election was historic, and I did what I could to help."