In the majority of the world, energy is seen as what one uses to charge their cell phones and laptops, brew their morning coffee, and what keeps their air conditioners and heaters on day and night to keep them comfortable. Most of the time we take energy for granted until a power outage occurs and we realize how little we can do without it. While energy access rarely concerns us, it remains a daily struggle for a large portion of the world. Today there are roughly 1.4 billion people who lack access to electricity, roughly one-fifth of the global population.[1] The majority of these individuals reside in developing countries within Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.[2] Moreover, many people who live in these energy deficient regions who are fortunate enough to have access to electricity still frequently face power outages that can last anywhere from hours to days. Reliable electricity has been proven to be extremely beneficial for communities as it aids in development, improves access to food and water, increases health, and provides an increased sense of security.

Deployment of renewable energy technologies in developing countries has the potential to provide today’s energy-deficient communities with low-cost, environmentally friendly energy security. This would be a sustainable and practical way to provide those who now lack energy access with all of the benefits that accompany it.

Electricity supply enables households with safe dependable lighting and thus provides more hours in a day to complete household tasks, thus increasing overall productivity. Electricity also grants students the ability to study at home past dark and provides power and lighting in their schools. These energy benefits assist in the growth and development of rural economies. Furthermore, substituting renewable energy for diesel and kerosene provides a surplus of those fuels that can be reallocated to industrial activities such as agriculture and textiles that can be done faster and more efficiently using machinery. This substitution of resources has a direct and positive impact on the development of rural economies.

Reliable energy also benefits community infrastructure services such as hospitals and water supply systems. Potable water is a necessity for maintaining good human health. Without it, consumers are more susceptible to endemic and epidemic waterborne diseases. Reliable energy sources also improve health by granting individuals the option to switch to electricity from using fossil fuels and dung for household activities such as cooking. This substitution significantly reduces household pollution, a problem that leads to 4.3 million premature deaths annually.[3]

Increased security from energy access generally refers to the opinions of women and children. A study and survey conducted by the United States Agency for International Development noted that the ability to turn on a light at night once it becomes dark yields a greater sense of safety for these groups than in the case where electric lighting is not available.[4] In addition, having electricity to power street lights is another way that makes individuals feel safer in their communities.

The examples above provide a brief glimpse into the benefits that reliable energy can provide to energy poor communities. In a world that is becoming greener with a focus on planetary sustainability, renewable energy is a promising road in pursuit of global access to electricity. Rivers will never stop flowing to provide hydropower, the sun will never stop shining to provide solar power, and the wind will never come to an eternal stop that will end its provision of wind power to us. Geothermal and ocean energy provide near limitless sources of renewable power in appropriate geographies as well.

In energy poor locations such as Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, renewable energy systems are promising investments that benefit large numbers of individuals struggling with energy access. With an abundance of solar, wind, geothermal, and hydro resources in these regions, renewable technologies have high potential. Furthermore, with growing populations, the demand for energy is continuously growing, making for an even greater market.

Unfortunately, the use of renewable energy is lacking in areas of the world with minimal energy access. Although these technologies are valuable investments, the high capital cost is often difficult for households, communities, or even countries to finance alone. Some progress has been made in tackling this issue such as the launch of the Sustainable Energy for All[5] initiative and the Power Africa[6] initiative, both of which work to improve and expand access to clean and reliable energy. In 2015, government agencies, development banks, non-governmental organizations, and the like had all contributed to the gross $156 billion in renewable investments in developing countries.[7] Still, much more progress and massive financial backing is needed in order to achieve global energy access and security.

By increasing private sector participation and assistance from support organizations even further, energy security could become a reality in currently deficient parts of the world within the next few decades. Effective strategies and sufficient funding have the potential to provide a better life to a significant portion of the global population through energy access. Until then, the progress towards providing reliable energy and its included benefits to these 1.4 billion underserved people will be at a hindered rate than what could actually be achieved.

Bianca Tedesco earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Economics at the University at Albany. Currently, she is working on her Masters in International Relations and International Economics at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies with a concentration in Energy, Resources and Environment.

Sources:

[1] International Energy Agency. “Africa Energy Outlook: A Focus On Energy Prospects in Sub-Saharan Africa.” 2014. Accessed July 28, 2016.

[2] United Nations Development Programme. “Universal Access to Modern Energy for the Poor.” Accessed July 26, 2016.

[3] World Health Organization. “Household Air Pollution and Health.” Updated February 2016. Accessed July 26, 2016.

[4] “Webinar: The Energy Diaries: How the Rural Poor Buy, Use and Think about Energy.” June 27, 2016. Accessed June 27, 2016.

[5] “About Us.” Sustainable Energy for All. Accessed July 26, 2016.

[6] “Power Africa.” Annual Report July 2015. July 2015. Accessed July 26, 2015.

[7] Werber, Cassie. “The Developing World Is Outspending Richer Countries on Renewable Energy Investment.” Quartz. June 01, 2016. Accessed July 28, 2016.