According to the International Energy Agency’s 2011 World Energy Outlook report, more than 1.3 billion people living in developing countries still don’t have basic access to electricity, and rely on expensive, poor quality solutions such as kerosene based lights in their homes. These provide low light levels and are detrimental to their health due to fire risks as well as causing respiratory illnesses. A further billion people whose homes are on the grid have only intermittent access to electricity. More than two billion people still depend on cooking fuels and stoves that also expose their families to serious indoor air pollution that prematurely kills nearly two million people per year.
In order to focus the world’s attention on energy issues common to industrialised and industrialising countries alike and to lay out a new global action agenda, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in September 2011 launched a multi-year initiative, ‘Sustainable Energy for All’ to focus on achieving three intertwined global objectives by 2030:
• Ensure universal access to modern energy services.
• Double the rate of improvement in energy efficiency.
• Double the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix.
Recognising that a global shift to cleaner energy solutions that support economic growth, social development and preserve our environment involves the work of many stakeholders, the UN is engaging with private sector companies to work alongside governments to focus on a robust set of policy and financing mechanisms to scale investment activity in support of these objectives.
At the same time, in order to support work of Sustainable Energy for All and in particular the objective of working to achieve universal energy access, the United Nations Foundation has launched an Energy Access Practitioner Network that focuses primarily on small and medium sized companies (SMEs) and not-for-profit organisations. We are extremely pleased that Renewable World is playing a full and active role as a member of the Energy Access Practitioner Network and thank them for their contribution to date. It includes more than 100 companies delivering energy products and services in developing countries, focusing on micro-grids, as well as community level solar PV and solar thermal, biomass, micro-hydro and standalone renewable energy solutions.
One of the premises of this work is that the 1.3 billion people lacking access to electricity represent both an existing market – given their monthly payments for example for kerosene for lighting, as well as charcoal for cooking – and a significant market opportunity, as long as products and services are matched appropriately to their household monthly payments for energy services. The Network is focused on a portfolio of immediate and long-term advocacy and actions using high quality solutions and specific market-based applications which have shown that delivering off-grid renewable energy solutions at scale in developing countries to low income customers can, provided that the right support and incentives are in place, both be commercially viable and support social and economic development that will help us to reach the goal of delivering Sustainable Energy to All by 2030.
Richenda Van Leeuwen is Senior Director of the Energy and Climate team overseeing the UN Foundation’s work on energy access.