Energy access: Old challenges – new rhetoric?

May 18th, 2012

When the UN announced its target ‘Energy for All by 2030’, I thought the opportunity for billions of rural in isolated areas has arrived. I also though small scale energy options, small standalone schemes, micro and mini grids, efficient and cleaner cooking technologies will be high priorities in the years and decades to come.

It is early to predict failure of success on meeting such an ambitious but much needed target. However, concerns start arising when I see that small scale technologies and decentralised energy schemes are not yet the focus of discussions. For example, during the First Africa-EU Energy Partnership Stakeholders Forum held recently in Cape Town, the focus of the discussions was on large renewable energy schemes, interconnections, power pool regulations, private sector investment and other issues mainly related to energy security, rather than energy for isolated rural populations. This is despite  that the majority of participants where African Stakeholders and despite  the fact that one of the targets of the AEEP is to provide Energy Access to 100 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa by 2020.

As an energy access advocate and long term practitioner I only hope that ‘Energy for All’ is not a new rhetoric for an old challenge, but in coming future, small scale technologies, micro grid, small standalone energy schemes, forest management, efficient cooking technologies come to the forefront of the discussions in all energy policy and strategy discussions.

With that mind, as long term energy access for the poor practitioner and advocate, I have decided to blog more frequently, and exchange ideas with the large community of energy access for the poor advocates.

16 responses to “Energy access: Old challenges – new rhetoric?”

  1. Mansoor Ali Says:

    Though, I agree with Teo but like to see more evidence that decentralised systems are the best options. Are they the cheapest systems and perhaps the most reliable ones? Is it a good idea that we discuss more on how people benefit from Energy, rather than how the energy is produced?

  2. Namiz Musafer Says:

    Gap between rich and the poor, whether in economic terms or energy poverty terms have disparities. In the past, access to energy was a concern, mainly for the poor only. Today, while the poor have the same problem, climate change has hit as a new challenge common to both rich and poor, where some argue climate change shall hit the poor more than the rich. Today, we have more problems and challenges to overcome.

  3. Teo Sanchez Says:

    Hi Mansoor, there are many examples around the world which can confirm that the best solution for rural energy needs are small scale energy schemes. One of the reasons for not extending the grid to rural areas is its high cost.

  4. Teo Sanchez Says:

    Hi Namiz, the difference between the rich and the poor is that while the rich have means to overcome the impact of climate change, the poor do not; the voice of the rich is heard at government level, the voice of the poor not. For this reasons in this blog I am advocating for more focuss on the energy needs of the poor, espcially at the high level political discussions happen.

  5. Mansoor Ali Says:

    I agree with Teo. Though, there may be some innovation which could link improved access and climate both. Do you agree that all new development, in this case access to the poor must also reduce carbon?

  6. Teo Says:

    Hi Mansoor. Most, if not all energy needs of the poor, can be met by using small scale renewable energy technologies, though using local energy sources solar energy, micro hydropower, wind power and biomass, especially the needs of the poorest and most isolated. So energy access for the poor is not a threat to climate change but will contribute to improve their lives.

  7. Mark Says:

    I believe the “big” problem is that the UN, being large, has a difficult time thinking small. They are so used to dealing with other governments and corporations, all of which have a mindset of “bigger is better”, that seeing solutions that work one family or one village at a time, is almost beyond their capability. It’s up to organizations and individuals, like yourself, to remind them that many different, small solutions can work together to solve the problem, if they have UN support. Kudos for your efforts in this arena.

  8. Teo Sanchez Says:

    Hi Mark, to be fair with UN, I have to say that they are trying hard to find their way to contribute to energy access for the poor, but as you say they are used to big systems, national solutions, etc. The voices of practitioners, local leaders, local authorities and users are needed in discussions related to strategies and policies. That will help UN and other big players to find their way to contribute effectively to energy access for the poor.

  9. Graham Knight Says:

    There are a number of ways that the remote poor can be helped with their energy needs.

    One that has not been explored is using stove heat to produce thermoelectricity which can power LEDs and charge cell phones.

    I have shown that this can be done at low cost by local firms and will supply information if contacted at

  10. Teo Sanchez Says:

    I agree with Graham, there are several energy needs and solutions. Therefore National, local energy strategies should accept and reflect that variety. Well informed users should be in the position to choose according what best matches their needs. Thermoelectrcity using heat from cook stoves could be one for lighting, although some energy access advocates are concerned that this option could increase consumption of wood.

  11. Mamahloko Says:

    Teo thanks for putting this in perspective. Governments want to eradicate energy poverty as a mass rollout initiative. In actual fact poverty in all its spheres needs simple actions that will accumulate to achieve the greater goal.

    Distributed generation is definetely the best option for providing energy accessto the marginalised.

  12. Teo Says:

    Mamahloko, Like you I trust that governments want the best for their people, my concerns arise when I see that despite the high profile of “Energy Access for All”, when policy and strategy discussions come, small scale decentralised solutions are hardly mentioned.

    Small and micro grids based and standalone systems on local resources are vital for rural electrification. Improved cooks stoves, forestation, reforestation and good management of biomass can provide most of the solutions for cooking.

  13. Teddy Says:

    While it may not be for every single situation, simple technological steps in the area of household biomass cooking energy can and are currently being rapidly implemented by entrepreneurs all over the world. Take for example this DIY charcoal making kit from Cookswell Jikos East Africa,

    but yes, rhetoric indeed, do you remember the ”sub-Saharan african woodfuel crisis” of the early 1980’s. they said we would run out for biomass energy in 1999….!

    anyway great post, keep it up!

  14. Teo Says:

    Great stuff the DIY Jiko charcoal stoves, like that there is a range of other solutions for cooking and for other energy services that can be made locally, using local materials and local labour.

    Small local enterprises can play a great role in the dissemination of these sorts of technologies to tackle the energy needs of the poor, but at the same time small enterprises can mobilise local capital and to contribute to create jobs and income locally

  15. Francesco Vitali Says:

    In my opinion every development opportunity can come from the local resources available (natural and human). Renewables are a preferable option but also liquid fuels (like LPG) or grid extention may be appropriate in certain contexts.

    Technologies have the role to make the available resources accessible and reliable for the local population in an appropriate way: in the case of cooking fuels this means in an affordable, convenient, clean and easy way, respecting the local practices..and recipes!

  16. Teo Sanchez Says:

    Francesco, I agree with you that technologies play an important role on affordability, reliability and accessibility of services. Most technologies are context specific. Small scale renewable energy technologies are generally the best option to provide access to electricity in rural remote communities. Similarly, efficient and clean (or cleaner) cook stoves are the best option for cooking in rural isolated areas. LPG is also a good in other contexts when the availability of renewable solid biomass is scarce. However the adoption of improved cook stoves has been slow everywhere (with very few exceptions), there are still barriers stopping their dissemination, I hope that these sort of discussions contribute to the eliminatiion of barriers

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