Planet Gore

‘Why Energy Poverty is the Worst Kind of Poverty’

Bryan Walsh in Time writes about the need to provide electricity to the developing world:

I want you to try to imagine what it’s like to live without electricity. It’s boring, for one thing — no television, no MP3 player, no video games. And it’s lonely and disconnected as well — no computer, no Internet, no mobile phone. You can read books, of course — but at night you won’t have light, other than the flicker of firewood. And about that firewood — you or someone in your family had to gather it during the day, taking you away from more productive work or schooling, and in some parts of the world, exposing you to danger. That same firewood is used to cook dinner, throwing off smoke that can turn the air inside your home far more toxic than that breathed in an industrial city. You may lack access to vaccines and modern drugs because the nearest hospital doesn’t have regular power to keep the medicine refrigerated. You’re desperately poor — and the lack of electricity helps to ensure that you’ll stay that way.

That’s life for the 1.3 billion people around the planet who lack access to the grid. It’s overwhelmingly a problem of the developing world and the countryside — more than 95% of those without electricity are either in sub-Saharan Africa or developing Asia, and 84% live in rural areas. Though it hasn’t gotten the attention that global problems like HIV/AIDS and malaria have received in recent years, lack of power remains a major obstacle to any progress in global development. 

“Lacking access to electricity affects health, well-being and income,” says Fatih Birol, the chief economist of the International Energy Agency (IEA). “It’s a problem the world has to pay attention to.”

Fortunately that attention is finally forthcoming. The U.N. has already declared 2012 the International Year of Sustainable Energy for All, and on Oct. 10 the IEA released a special report that details the problem of energy access and outlines how a universal power grid might be financed. The need for clean cooking stoves — 2.7 billion people lack them, an offshoot of the energy-access problem — is rising up the development agenda as well. The experts’ analyses about how solvable these problems are is surprisingly sunny: according to the IEA’s analysis, it would be possible to achieve universal energy access for the world by 2030 with around $48 billion a year in global investment. “We very much have the capacity to make a difference in this field,” says Birol, who has worked for years to call attention to electricity access. No one needs to stay in the dark.

The rest here.

IEA wants solar. Has anyone in the air-conditioned offices of the IEA thought about the ease with which a terrorist or any other malcontent could destroy an entire region’s source of electricity with nothing more complex than a rock.

Let’s deal with energy poverty, but to think a region as large and diverse as Sub-Saharan Africa can have this problem solved for $48 billion is, at best, a naive estimate of the cost.

If we really cared about the poverty problem, we’d be airdropping diesel-powered generators with follow-up deliveries of fuel, no?