Globally, just under one billion people have no access to electricity. This means no effective lighting to study at night, no refrigeration to keep medicines, and limited opportunities to run businesses. The United Nations have set a goal to provide affordable, reliable and modern energy for all by 2030. This is a very challenging goal which at Practical Action we try and support through our energy access work.
However, a recent article in the Economist claimed that providing access to electricity is not as transformational as previously thought. Does this mean we are wasting our time? Definitely not!
In our Poor People’s Energy Outlook (PPEO) series of publications, we have highlighted the complex and multi-dimensional nature of energy access. Providing electricity for household uses is of course no panacea for poverty reduction. We need to think about community needs (e.g. health centres, schools, street lighting) and productive uses to boost demand (e.g. agriculture). And while there is a lot of focus on electricity, other energy needs are as, if not more, important. This applies especially to clean cooking, with more than 3 billion people still dependent on dirty fuels for cooking, resulting in huge negative health impacts, especially on women and children.
In our latest PPEO, we provide case studies demonstrating how inclusive energy access has been delivered at scale in a number of countries. We recognise that there remain serious challenges but we disagree with the Economist’s suggestion that cash-strapped countries should now effectively de-prioritise energy access. This is totally at odds with a recent call for a huge injection of extra cash for energy access from SE4All which found an annual investment short-fall of USD30 billion for electricity and USD4 billion for cooking.
Energy access is and remains an enabler of development, especially when combined with other targeted policies and measures. That’s why we will continue to work with communities to achieve access to energy for all through a range of sustainable energy solutions.
GOGLA, Crossboundary and John Keane of SolarAid have also provided responses to the Economist article, showing the positive effects of energy access.