Energy access requires unprecedented scale of efforts

Posted on 17 October 2013

Despite some gains in the past 20 years, almost 1.2 billion people worldwide – close to the population of India – still do not have access to electricity, the World Energy Congress was told on 17 October.

From 1990 to 2010, the gains in electricity access have stayed “slightly” ahead of population growth over the same period, signaling that far more needs to be done, said C. P. Jain, Executive Chair for Energy Access with the World Energy Council in India. Demand for electricity continues to outpace supply, while electricity needs to be more affordable, sustainable, and used more efficiently. “To rise to this challenge, to meet human’s basic need and to achieve sustainability clearly requires a scale of efforts we have never seen before,” he said.

Over the past 20 years, the urban access rate has stagnated at 95%, while half a billion rural connections have been made, said Simon Trace, CEO of Practical Action, an international non-governmental organization based in the UK. Cooking is the biggest energy consumer in homes, but fumes kill 3.5 million people each year, which increases the need for global access to safe stoves. “Have we made progress? Yes and no,” Trace said. “We need to accelerate progress, quintupling the amount of money spent annually to $45 billion per year if we’re going to see MDGs achieved by 2030.”

Other panelists urged a more decentralized model that could tackle the dearth of electricity in remote communities, particularly in India and Sub-Saharan Africa. “If it is a centralized system, then we are not likely to involve communities in the decision-making process,” said Sanjit Bunker Roy, Founder of the Barefoot College in India. “If it is decentralized, there is scope and potential for involving communities in the implementation and decision-making process.”

The very poor who earn less than $1 a day cannot afford a business model, he said. Roy put forward what he called a “partnership cum subsidy model,” which includes a mixture of funding from governments and international organizations such as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). This is what his organization, Barefoot University, has managed do in 64 countries, he said. “This is a debate which is long overdue,” he said. “Lots of people find it difficult to be a part of, because, frankly speaking, lots of big organizations have lost touch with the community because they don’t have a forum where they can consult and hear from communities that have solutions.”


This news story is based on the What Does It Take? session, “Energy access: Steps to progress”, at the 2013 World Energy Congress.