Energy access and its importance – Explained, pointwise

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Energy is vital in raising standards of living and enhancing development. It is critical in building and saving lives — in situations of intense heat, for instance, access to air cooling systems is imperative. Energy access is also necessary to improve worker productivity. According to the World Bank estimates, 759 million people live without access to basic electricity and live with energy poverty. The majority of them are in low and middle-income countries.

On the other hand, the rich countries enjoy relative energy affluence in energy usage. This highlights the energy crisis the world faces today and the need for reducing energy poverty.

What is energy equity and energy poverty?

Energy inequality translates to lower living standards, which hurts the poor deeply. There are two dimensions to this.

The first is inequality within energy systems, manifest in underprivileged people who don’t have access to energy like electricity.

The second, at a worldwide level, there is global energy inequality, with wealthier countries consuming more energy, per capita and in absolute terms, compared to poorer countries.

For instance, The per capita electricity consumption in Canada is 17179 kWh and in the US it is 13338 kWh. But the per capita electricity consumption in Somalia is just 20 kWh and in Chad, it is just 13 kWh.

Note: In 2018-19, India’s per capita electricity consumption was at 1181 kWh.

If a section of people has a lack of access to sustainable modern energy services and products, then the World Economic Forum terms the condition as energy poverty.

What is the present status of energy access?
Energy inequality
Source: TOI

Millions of people globally struggle with energy poverty. UNCTAD finds over half the people in the world’s least developed countries (LDCs) have no access to electricity.

Surveys show a significant amount of rural population, living without access to electricity in 2019. Almost 3 billion people globally still depend on unclean energy like wood, coal, and charcoal for cooking and heating.

What is the link between energy access and the poverty cycle?

Energy access is key to poverty alleviation. Energy inequity traps poor people in a cycle of poverty. Inequality in energy access undermines economic activity and efforts to raise people out of poverty.

There are situations where poor people spend more of their incomes on energy than affluent families — at times, the poor spend more per unit of energy than wealthier people. For example,

– energy delivered through a grid is less expensive than using batteries to power appliances.

– Poor people also often have older vehicles that are less fuel-efficient. So, they use more fuel to travel the same distance as others.

Thus, the poor people spend more on energy and can’t save or invest in other important areas.

Moreover, energy inequality spins out cycles of poverty — the UN finds worldwide, women pay the heaviest price for energy poverty. For example, Girls in households depending on unclean fuels lose up to 30 hours each week gathering wood or water — this impacts their education and livelihoods.

This is why access to affordable, inclusive, and clean energy is the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7.

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How does energy access improve standards of life?

Energy is the keystone humans need to achieve their potential through education and economic productivity. Steady energy availability shores up essential social services, including life-saving healthcare. Energy access makes people demand the right to electricity. The electricity connection is the first step that leads to the use of appliances and services associated with electricity like TVs, electric cookers, refrigerators, mobile phones, etc.

State regulations powerfully shape energy access. There are regulations in many countries which stipulate one needs to be a house owner to have an electricity connection. Now, in many such countries, people tend to own houses.

How does the pandemic highlight the importance of energy access?

The World Bank finds that the Covid-19 pandemic’s harsh impacts have made basic electricity unaffordable for 30 million more people worldwide.

The pandemic has also had an impact on poor sections of people living in developed countries. For example, even in the US, poorer communities suffered more because of working conditions that exposed them to the virus. The poor couldn’t stay at home, working on their computers remotely. Lacking energy access, they had to go out to earn their livelihoods.

In many countries, the poor received inadequate healthcare, due to lack of quality energy and associated power outages, etc.

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What are the challenges India faces in ensuring energy equity?

India had robust economic growth over the last 15 years. In the future, India is likely to join the US, China, Germany, and Japan as the top five economies of the world. India is also projected to have the largest energy demand globally. But India faces the following challenges.

Vulnerability of poor and marginalised sections: According to many studies, the poor in India are particularly vulnerable in terms of energy poverty compared to the poor in more affluent societies.

Heavy dependence on fossil fuels: Coal, oil, and natural gas are the most important primary energy sources in India. But due to inadequate domestic supplies, India is importing them, which will limit India’s ability to provide energy access.

Read more: Coal crisis in India – Explained, pointwise

Problems faced by the power sector: Indian power sector faces various challenges. Such as Transmission & Distribution losses, weak financial health of Discoms, aging power plants, and transmission networks, Interstate Disputes in power exchange, etc. All this requires rapid attention.

Read more:Problems faced by power sector in India
What can India do to provide energy access?

Focus on basic energy access: The government has to find the energy gap and keep the focus on efforts to solve it. For that, India needs to prioritize basic energy access, from electricity to cooking technologies, etc., for the extremely poor. Alongside, developing countries need to broaden energy access for businesses and the middle class.

Better planning: In 2018, India reported around 35.2% of its population of 1.38 billion people live in slums. India will see a massive urban housing construction in the next ten years at a scale no other country has seen.

India has to plan the projects with adequate natural ventilation or sunlight access. Else it will lead to a host of issues. Such as an increased purchase of highly energy-intensive cooling devices, the rise of urban heat islands, microclimatic conditions, etc.

Focus on Marginalised sections: India made a concerted effort to provide hundreds of millions of people access to electricity through schemes such as PM Saubhagya Scheme. Now, it’s important to engage the energy marginalised and understand their needs.

Focus on energy-related meetings: To avoid gender bias in appliance selection, India can create energy centers and conduct energy-related meetings at local levels. This will create a focus on women’s energy needs and empower women. Thus, improving equity in society.

Make energy production climate-resilient: One of the world’s greatest challenges is to reduce energy poverty while supporting economic growth. On the other hand, India has the largest projected energy demand globally. So, India must plan to transition as rapidly as possible while securing its ability to generate electricity in the near future.

Read more: Green Energy Initiatives in Budget 2021- Explained

Contribution from Developed Countries: At COP26, the world’s richest countries should step up financing to help developing nations’ transition, to a lower-carbon economy, while meeting their development needs. This will act as a major boost to Equitable energy access.

In conclusion, energy equity is paramount to the right type of energy transition. The world doesn’t want to be powered by renewables, while energy poverty still impacts poor people harshly. So, the energy transition should not only focus on emissions and technologies but also should focus on simultaneously providing energy access to all while achieving the emission targets.

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