Today we’re able to build self-driving trucks, to communicate with smart humanoids, and to play video games with virtual reality technologies. Yet there are 1.06 billion people living without access to electricity across the world (IEA and World Bank, 2017). That’s one in every five people, most of them living in rural Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, they rely on kerosene, candles, and battery torches for essential lighting.
Closing this gap and providing reliable and sustainable access of electricity to these families living off-the-grid is essential and will come with many benefits. Light in the evenings could help between 142,000 and 2 million children to study at home, contributing to a higher level of education. A health clinic that has reliable electricity would presumably provide better health services and outcomes to the community it serves. Burning less kerosene or animal dung or charcoal indoors to cook, because there is now a solar induction stove in the corner, would improve the family’s health.
Universal access to modern energy services is a prerequisite for poverty eradication and an enabler of human and economic development. Unfortunately, quantifying the gains to vulnerable populations from getting electricity access more quickly, or the missed opportunities of living without power for many more years, or even decades, remains challenging.
The research paper, Why Wait? Seizing the Energy Access Dividend, explores the concept of an energy access dividend that assigns economic, social, and environmental value to the time it takes for households, businesses and communities to obtain the benefits associated with electricity access.
The study looks at Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Kenya, three countries with significant energy access gaps, accounting for more than 180 million of the one billion people still living without power. This case studies have also wide-ranging differences in terms of income levels, demographics and electrification rates.
Providing data to convince decision-makers to act now
The data shows significant financial savings for households by using solar power for lighting and mobile phone charging instead of relying on kerosene and external phone charging.
“For many decision makers, the default is building the grid, its pernicious, and it’s expensive. Our research contributes to bring to decision makers the evidence that delivering electricity access faster through decentralized electricity solutions offers many economical profits for their people and country,” says Rachel Kyte, CEO of Sustainable Energy for All.
Bringing electricity into a remote household reduces the family expenditures for energy services (such as kerosene and mobile phone-charging costs) that can be replaced by direct electricity access. It also gives the family more time, due to electric lights and other appliances, which results in improvements in education, health, and communications; and it surely enhances the productivity and income levels of the household.
“Some households would be saving up to $10 a month by switching to solar. Add that up to a year and you’re seeing substantial financial savings freed up for other uses,” said report author Andrew Scott, from the Overseas Development Institute.
“Bringing renewables or decentralised energy into a household has an exponential effect on jobs and revenues.” adds Kristina Skierka, CEO of Power for All.
According to the study, households can save hundreds of dollars, equivalent to the average annual income of between 61,800 and 406,000 people depending on the country and timeframe to deliver universal access, by bringing electricity access forward through use of solar to power household services like lighting and mobile-phone charging instead of kerosene or costly external phone-charging services.
The impact on education
“You could save a generation by giving pupils the opportunity for more time to study,” says Rachel Kyte. “It’s not about energy for itself, it’s about what energy can do for people,” she continues.
Providing access to sustainable energy also reduces carbon dioxide (CO2) — as much as 330 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent emissions, or roughly the emissions from 60 million passenger vehicles driven for one year — due to reduced kerosene use, which is harmful to public health and contributes to global warming.
The report comes just 12 years ahead of global energy goal deadlines, as many countries remain behind schedule in getting there. The goal to “ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all” establishes the vast importance of access to modern energy services for human development and economic growth. Although access to electricity is not a sufficient condition for poverty reduction, it is widely regarded as a necessary condition. The solutions are available and we know we have proof of their benefits, so why wait?
Article by Anne-Sophie Garrigou
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