Sustainable Energy Access is Key to 2°C and Economic InclusionRyan Schuchard & Edward Cameron
As governments and business seek to develop more low-GHG energy in the face of a projected 37% growth of global energy demand by 2040, they also need to be more proactive about delivering sustainable energy to the full fifth of our global population (1.3 billion people) with no electricity at all.
The world’s most pressing developmental challenges are found in this community, where a lack of modern energy is highly connected with poverty. Here, men and women spend huge amounts of time doing basic tasks such as hauling firewood and farming without vehicles, women cook with primitive and toxic biomass indoors, and families live without modern lighting after dark.
The relationship between those without energy today and the places where energy and emissions are projected to sharply rise in the future is varied. The latest analysis by the International Energy Agency finds that in some cases energy poverty is concentrated in high-emitting, high-growth countries (India at 306 million and Indonesia 60 million); in others, it is found in countries which are not major emitters but that whose energy demand has begun to sharply rise (Bangladesh at 62 million, Pakistan at 56 million, Myanmar at 36 million, and Philippines at 29 million); and for the largest group of all, significant energy demand growth is still many years off (Sub-Sahara Africa at 621 million).
What these and all communities in need of basic energy services have in common, as Jean-François Gagné of the International Energy Agency remarked in a presentation earlier this week, is that the first consideration for energy is basic availability, and the second concern is cost. That is why diesel generators proliferate in remote areas for those who can afford it, and governments looking for their first high-scale stationary power have traditionally turned first to coal.
Fortunately, sustainability aside, renewable energy looks increasingly attractive on both fronts. Advances in distributed technology are causing renewable energy to leapfrog centralized power as a practical solution in rural areas around the world. Especially in countries where government support for distributed energy is strong, we are seeing new business markets emerging very rapidly, with many companies across Africa, Asia and Latin America currently selling household level renewable energy systems and devices, and distributed renewables are increasingly being used to provide sustainable electricity, modern cooking, heating and cooling and battery charging for mobile communications and water pumping in rural areas.
Renewables are also cost-competitive: Over the last 5 years, worldwide average cost of electricity has declined by 53% for crystalline silicon PV systems, and 15% for onshore wind turbines. This is a key reason why 41% of new generating capacity installed worldwide in 2013 came from renewable sources.
As markets develop, further cooperation is still needed among private and public sectors to continue to drive affordability, provide better access to finance, increase knowledge about local resources, and provide more advanced technologies that can be tailored to meet customer needs. However, the practical advantages of renewable energy show that it can deliver today. We can create clean, affordable energy for emerging economies and lift millions out of energy poverty.