"Access to energy is fundamental to improving quality of life and is a key imperative for economic development."
Living in a first world country with easy access to a variety of modern energy sources, it's incredibly easy to take such privilege for granted. Most of us (at least those with access to this blog) live in a world where we can debate forms of energy. Do we want our home to have gas or electric heat? Do we want to get our electricity exclusively from the grid or do we want to supplement our energy with solar panels?
Wind power, hydroelectric power, thermal power, solar power, nuclear, coal, oil, natural gas...
We have options. And having options is great! Because when a number of modern options exist, it leaves room for debate and growth and future improvement. We couldn't possibly argue over sustainable vs. non-sustainable energy if we didn't have those options. We couldn't find better methods if we didn't have options to analyze for both pros and cons. Obviously, right?
What may not be so obvious--or at least what can often be overlooked--is that not everyone has those options. And I don't mean just a small fraction of people, here. Globally, think a billion or more.
According to the United Nations Foundation, at least 1 billion people don't have access to any kind of electricity. An additional 1 billion people have only unreliable electricity networks. And what's more, nearly 3 billion people rely on traditional biomass for cooking and heating. And by traditional biomass I mean things like charcoal, wood, crop waste, and dung.
Naturally there are a lot of issues with this. Convenience, for one. But it's also a health hazard. Traditional methods are not always very safe. Smoke from pollution and inefficient means of cooking, lighting, and heating devices kills approximately 4 million people a year. Breathing in such hazards within the home further causes chronic illnesses and other negative health impacts. It's not efficient. It's simply just not good enough.
The billions of people living without access to electricity and other modern means of energy live in what is referred to as energy poverty. Energy poverty refers to a lack of access to modern energy services. It is ascribed to situations within developing countries where a large number of peoples' well-being is adversely affected by a very low consumption of energy, the use of dirty or polluting fuels (such as traditional biomass mentioned above), and excessive time spent collecting such fuel to meet basic needs.
"Without energy, there is no economic growth, there is no dynamism, and there is no opportunity."
--World bank Vice President Rachel Kyte
Decreasing (or hopefully someday eliminating) energy poverty is crucial for eliminating economic poverty.
Energy is so much more than plugging in your hair dryer or running your car--it's necessary for societal development. Fuel can fuel ideas, spark innovation, run business, and power an economy. Energy grows food and puts food on the table. Energy makes art and builds infrastructure and inspires children. It provides healthcare and prolongs a higher quality life.
The UN wants to eliminate extreme poverty for all people everywhere by 2030 as part of their Agenda for Sustainable Development (adopted September 25, 2015). Among their 17 sustainable goals are affordable and clean energy; decent work and economic growth; industry, innovation, and infrastructure; sustainable cities and communities; climate action.
These goals cannot be met without eliminating extreme energy poverty.
The United Nation's —Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) is a global initiative (led by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon) to achieve universal energy access, improve energy efficiency, and increase the use of renewable energy.
SE4ALL's goal is to meet these objectives by 2030:
- Ensure universal access to modern energy services
- Double the rate of improvement in energy efficiency
- Double the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix
Efforts to bring more power to more people has been making strides--in 2013, 17% of the world's population didn't have access to electricity, while now the number has decreased to about 13 or 14%.
Still, population growth provides a challenge to global electrification.
Eliminating energy poverty is also important in combating climate change and environmental degradation.
When it comes to energy and the environment, we tend to focus our attention on fossil fuels--natural gas, oil, and coal. —We might romanticize the aforementioned —traditional energy sources as being better to the environment. —But that line of thinking isn't accurate; not only is energy poverty harmful to human health, but it's also harmful to the environment.
Burning polluted energy sources is one of the driving forces behind climate change and local environmental degradation.
If we really want progress, for both mankind and for our planet, we need to keep thinking about energy poverty across the globe--and ways to eliminate it.
Energy poverty isn't limited to third world countries--domestic energy poverty can happen in any country, where —a household does not have access or cannot afford to have the basic energy or energy services for day-to-day living requirements. —