The development community is gearing up for the target of Universal Energy Access by 2030. A large movement is gaining pace to challenge global poverty through access to energy, with the UN Secretary General at the fore.
But what is “energy access”? And how can every person in the world get it?
Agreeing on a definition for energy access – a seemingly basic task – is actually riddled with difficulties and the subject of much debate. When does a person move from not having energy access to having energy access? Is it when grid electricity arrives at their home? Or does a solar panel suffice? Is cooking on gas or electricity a must, or can we count an efficient wood stove as access? And do we only consider energy access for households, or do we need to broaden the definition to businesses and public services that also rely on energy?
How we define energy access is hugely important in determining how we tackle energy poverty. This is an increasingly important question as the big donors, banks and governments begin to channel vast sums of money and efforts into the Universal Energy Access initiative.
Furthermore, determining a plan of action for how billions of people can gain energy access – whatever that is – in the next 18 years is also a hot topic for debate. What can countries do to make the transition to modern energy systems for a whole population? And how can we ensure poor people are empowered to improve their lives through the process?
Practical Action recently launched the Poor people’s energy outlook 2012 report that helps to answer these questions.
You may have seen the PPEO 2010 that reported on energy use in the home, and how important energy is in improving people’s lives. This year the PPEO looks at the linkages between energy access and earning a living. It shows all the ways that energy is used for people’s livelihoods and businesses, and maps out how people can move from gaining an energy supply to increased incomes.
We hear from business owners in Kenya, Nepal and Peru describe how modern energy helps them increase their incomes. Mrs Sanchez owns a restaurant in Yanacancha village in Peru that gets electricity from the community micro-hydro system: “we’ve got electricity in the store, so I can run a fridge and the lights as well as the television which the customers like to watch while they eat”.
Change in energy access can start with one person, but it must eventually be at the level of the whole system. The PPEO outlines the policies, finance arrangements and necessary skills required to foster the change that could lead to universal energy access.
Practical Action is taking a lead role in contributing new knowledge on the linkages between energy and development, and presenting a poor people’s perspective at international debates. We are working at the highest levels to influence the approach and direction of the Universal Energy Access movement; promoting our understanding of people-centred development and the voices of people we work with.