Energy For All

updated December 2016

Satellite photographs of Africa by night betray the injustice of the global divide. They do so through the medium of energy poverty, the darkness of a continent blanketing the human frustration in millions of homes.

© Visible Earth, NASA

The former UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, has championed the needs of 1.1 billion people around the world without access to electricity and 2.9 billion without clean cooking facilities. The Sustainable Development Goal of universal access to modern energy services by 2030 must contend with complex overlapping claims for scarce financial resources.

Energy Poverty

The consequences of energy poverty can come as a shock to those accustomed to unlimited and uninterrupted use of modern household appliances.

Improvements in health will stall if clinics cannot refrigerate vaccines and medicines. Education cannot flourish in its core purpose if evening study in the home is impractical, nor in its broader sense if computers and televisions remain the stuff of dreams.

Even the most basic lighting facilities will extend the potential hours of workshop or retail livelihoods. And if mobile phones are to fulfil the social and economic potential that has so excited development experts, then the capacity for routine recharging is essential.

Although the provision of electricity alone is insufficient to underwrite development, there is close correlation between countries with the lowest energy capacity and those classified as Least Developed Countries. The Africa Progress Report 2015 warned that “energy-sector bottlenecks and power shortages cost the region 2-4 per cent of GDP annually, undermining sustainable economic growth, jobs and investment.”

Conversely, the champions of poverty reduction can boast almost universal access to electricity. China has connected 500 million people in rural areas since 1990 whilst Vietnam has increased coverage from 14% to 99% in 25 years.

In the absence of modern energy sources, rudimentary cookstoves burn wood, charcoal or agricultural waste, creating kitchen pollution which scientists say is equivalent to a child smoking 3-5 cigarettes per day.

Recent research demonstrates links between pregnancy in this domestic environment and  hampered cognitive development of the child. A 2012 study published in The Lancet attributes 3.5 million annual deaths to indoor air pollution from cookstoves, one of the world’s most serious mortality risks.


Solar Power Lights Up Rural Bolivia
A basic example of the benefits of a household solar power system

from World Bank

Even small supplies of energy can make a real difference in remote rural areas in Rwanda
from UNIDO

more Energy For All briefings
Sustainable Development Goal for Energy
Global Energy Divide
Electricity and Cookstove Solutions
Finance for Energy For All
The Coal Dilemma
Source material and useful links

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