Practical Action Finds That Energy Access Efforts Are Still Too Centered On Old Approach04 Dec 2014 |
Practical Action, a finalist in the 2015 Zayed Future Energy Prize awards, has released a report emphasizing that efforts to bring energy access to all still have a long way to go in order to truly live up to their aims. Policy, investment, and debate “has not changed significantly in ways that benefit the poor.”
Efforts from governments and businesses engaged in this “energy access for all” effort have been too focused on large, utility-scale projects, the organization argues. More useful for really reaching the world’s poorest are distributed energy options (like solar, wind, biomass, biogas, and small hydro) and microgrids (aka mini-grids).
From the report: “The discourse remains dominated by grid-based, large-scale infrastructure investments to boost power supplies, which will primarily benefit cities and industry. ‘Business as usual’ projections suggest that, by 2030, as many people will be living in energy poverty as today. Without a step-change, the number of people with no access to electricity will remain close to 1 billion in 2030; 2.6 billion people will cook using traditional fuels; and 30 million lives will have been lost to indoor smoke-related diseases.”
There is no doubt that address this is a massive challenge. How to bring electricity to over a billion people? Financing institutions and richer governments trying to help with these issues are very predispositioned to try to solve the problem using the same methods as the rich gained access to electricity. However, Practical Action makes the argument that something different is needed in order to bring energy to the poor. Furthermore, a massive shift in the energy industry all around the world is even shaking up the systems developed over the course of the 20th century. Just as many in developing countries have never had landlines but now have cell phones, they should leapfrog electricity from large, centralized power plants and go right into distributed home or community renewable energy systems, storage, and microgrids.
“The initial report looks at the evidence used to assess the overall energy situation,” pv-magazine writes. “In collating the report, Practical Action looked at existent material, the perception of what material exists, and where practitioners and policymakers perceived to be gaps in the material available. In its survey, Practical Action claim to have reviewed literature from 234 open-source materials published since 2008, with a subset of materials from 12 publishers looked at in more detail. 51 people were also surveyed, with 21 follow-up interviews conducted”
Founded in 1965, Practical Action has a wealth of history and expertise at its fingertips to understand the situation today. Interestingly, it notes something that the people behind the Zayed Future Energy Prize (for which Practical Action is a multi-year finalist) seem to understand well (based on the other finalists they have selected this year and in years past): to bring energy to the whole world, the solutions need to come through financially sustainable business models that can scale and can reach the deepest avenues of the planet. The current systems don’t do that. “It is clear that practitioners and policymakers are still unsure about exactly how to structure and finance energy markets, and how to support and guide businesses to deliver energy access at scale,” the organization states.
Hopefully Practical Action and the other Zayed Future Energy Prize finalists and contestants will keep coming up with solutions that build off of each other, new approaches that go where electricity has not gone before.
Image Credit: Practical Action