Access to renewable energy: Powering developing countries out of poverty?

Energy has been proven to be a critical enabler in all aspects of development. One out of five people in the world do not have access to energy and those people happen to live in the poorest regions of the globe. If we must attain the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), it is essential to acknowledge the correlation between lack of access to energy and poverty: energy can affect social, economic, environmental, health, educational, gender and many other aspects of human life. Therefore it is necessary to enable the access and enhance the quantity and quality of renewable energy services available in developing countries.

The UN Secretary-General’s Sustainable Energy for All can be seen as one such initiative which could serve as a catalyst for different stakeholders to act towards this end. We must seize these opportunities to induce concrete actions backed by legal bindings from all policy-makers and stop the trend of empty talk and inaction. Even though they are of good intent, the bigger picture is often lost in meetings where stakeholders get caught up in political horse-trading and national interests. This is one reason why these high-level initiatives and summits are gradually losing their credibility.

Access to clean and sustainable energy remains one of today’s major problems even though these issues have attracted a lot of attention over the past two decades. Our aim is to highlight the larger obstacles that the scaling-up of renewable energy (RE) is confronted with and the efforts and innovative schemes that are being put into place to overcome them.

One major barrier to the uptake of RE is the lack of enabling legislative frameworks. In order for a country or region to benefit from RE, its access has to be facilitated by the government. The latter must demonstrate commitment and implement supportive policies. Most developing countries suffer from a lack of strong governance and regulatory frameworks that seek to minimise political and economic risks while encouraging investments – which, as we know are fostered by stability of the regulatory system and of the policy environment – as well as strengthening capacity of national and local institutions.

In that regard, our work at the World Future Council (WFC) is mainly to address challenges to our common future and to provide decision makers with effective policy solutions.

We believe that many “best policies” can already be found in different countries and can be adapted and adopted.

Examples of such policies are microfinance schemes which have proven to be very successful and efficient in countries around the world. Indeed, besides having access to a large segment of the poor, microfinance institutions have the know-how and have played a key role in enhancing the economic opportunities available to the rural poor by offering a vast range of financial services.

The linkage between microfinance institutions (MFI) and RE is highly pertinent since they potentially complement each other: RE can help microfinance programmes attain their larger goal of reducing vulnerabilities, and MFIs can improve the access of poor people to RE by providing them with loans to buy the RE technology or more importantly, by building a partnership with the local utility owners to help them branch out into new markets that include the rural people.

Another important aspect covered by these schemes is the funding for the access to RE which also constitutes a major barrier: once the linkages are built between RE and MFIs, it can be easier to attract donors to channel their capital into loans for energy services through the MFIs.

As noted before, approximately 1.3 billion people live without energy, but about 3 billion people live without conventional heating and cooking solutions. Access to energy for all is undeniable, but an issue that is even more pressing is the switch from harmful and strenuous methods of energy use to ones that are more sustainable and better for human health and the environment.

© Nathalie Bertrams

This matter may be addressed by small scale investments in clean, efficient, affordable and reliable energy systems and by making stoves that use biomass or biogas available. Some very successful business models have already been implemented such as the Development Association for Renewable Energies (DARE): as an improved wood stove programme financed by the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), the DARE stove reduces indoor air pollution and emissions by 80%. DARE aims to disseminate up to 45 000 stoves, and this CDM project is expected to prevent the emission of around 300 000 tonnes of CO2 by 2018. Rendering clean cooking universal will lead to improved living conditions of women and children and to increased productivity, thus achieving a major part of the MDGs.

In sum, the questions we must ask ourselves are: How do we accelerate the uptake of RE and ensure energy security and durability? How do we enable access to funding at a local level and cater effectively for local needs? Beyond access to RE – how do we change our perspectives into long-term planning by exploring ways in which access to RE can lead to productivity, capacity building and be a stimulating factor for sectoral developments and local economies.

In addition, there is an urgent need for a genuine political will to give priority to these issues. Therefore we must target governments and policy-makers directly to get the discussions started on the grass-root level.

To that end, the African Renewable Energy Alliance (AREA) in collaboration with the WFC will organise a three-day conference and workshop focusing on ‘Access to Sustainable Renewable Energy in Africa as Prerequisite for the MDGs.’ The conference will bring together several policy-makers, stakeholders from business, civil society, academia and multilateral organisations. These participants will focus on identifying and promoting the necessary frameworks and instruments for the scaling-up of access to renewable energy for all African citizens; improving their livelihoods; and protecting the environment. In order to separate our conference from the ones we mentioned above, we aim to develop a policy toolkit that is intelligible and that can be used by all our participants in their respective organizations/sectors. We will also put the emphasis on creating partnerships between the developing and developed countries and on sharing successful models to accelerate the uptake of RE in Africa.

To find out more about our event please visit our AREA conference website

Please feel free to join AREA by registering here:

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

1 comment

1 shakeel ahmad { 05.10.12 at 12:09 }

excellent article about RE congratulation