With the introduction of renewable energy, the gap of availability of energy between the poor and rich is narrowing. However, the use gap is so high that there is the need to take a drastic step to fill it.
Released by Minister for Population and Environment Jayadev Joshi, a new report looking at the needs of energy poor communities reveals the misunderstanding of people’s needs amongst development banks, aid donors and governments.
At a time when less than 25 percent population in Nepal receives electricity from the central grid, it is imperative that the current mentality about providing energy for all in Nepal should change.
“A lack of understanding amongst many decision makers of the best technologies and approaches suited to achieving total energy access and a lack of meaningful efforts to involve the energy poor in discussing what solutions they would like to the problems that affect them persist,” said the report.
The report recommends that cooking and the differing energy needs of men and women must be included in national planning to address household demand for energy and the number of deaths from cooking over open fires. Energy access should be addressed via a range of solutions, including the grid, mini grids and stand-alone home systems
“Better education of national government civil servants and decision makers is needed, in terms of the array of energy access solutions available. Measurement of energy access should not be done simply via number of connections and kilowatt hours, but by looking at levels of energy access needed and achieved and long term social benefits,” the report said.
Written by energy experts at Practical Action, the Poor People’s Energy Outlook for 2016 found the key targets, agreed by world leaders to reduce poverty and bring access to modern energy, will be missed because current planning processes are not fit for purpose.
The report was written using evidence gathered in villages in South Asia and Africa. It urges politicians and development experts to revisit why and how they take the approach to energy planning and funding that they do.
It also highlights serious inadequacies in most energy poor countries when it comes to confronting the health and environmental impacts of cooking over open fires, which kills more than four million people a year - more than AIDS, TB and malaria combined.
Report author Dr Lucy Stevens oversaw the study of communities in Bangladesh, Togo and Kenya. She said: “We have been working with the Nepal Government for many years and their efforts in attempting to make Nepal smoke free all are to be commended.
“However, in many other developing countries, that is not the case. Billions of poor people want and need reliable energy so they can light their home, cook safely, and power fans to keep their home cool, and it is perverse that many energy ministries and development banks continue to prioritise expensive grids for industries providing little benefit to the wider populace.
“This is often in favour of similarly priced or cheaper distributed energy technologies that can meet the real energy needs of the nation – bringing energy to those still living in the dark, and who are unable to work or learn or live up to their potential because of it.
“While current predictions on continued energy poverty in 2030 make for grim reading, there is still time to do something about it by re-balancing national plans in favour of decentralized solutions. But this must be done now.”
Co-author Aaron Leopold said: “We now need to educate national leaders about how this technological progress must be integrated into national planning and policymaking processes, and for the need to build up the capacities of national workforces to install, maintain, operate and repair these primarily renewable energy systems.
“The most important recommendation in this report is that we should focus on the needs of the end-user instead of perceived priorities determined in capital cities. And the exciting thing that our work has shown is the outcomes of such inverted planning exercises are better in terms of quality at essentially no extra cost.”
This Poor People’s Energy Outlook is the fifth of a series of reports looking at the impact of energy access, and the lack of it, on the lives of poor people throughout the world.
The 2016 report uses data and testimony from a dozen communities across Togo, Kenya and Bangladesh. It will be followed by two more reports, scheduled between now and 2018, on financing for energy access (2017) and scaling up (2018).
The report which accuses donors and some governments of sticking their head in the sand over attempting to achieve energy access for all by continuing to focus on extending national grids, rather than looking at smaller-scale off-grid option such as micro hydro and solar power, which research and experts agree is the only way of bringing modern energy to all by 2030.