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Wednesday, April 7, 2021

For three billion people, energy poverty is the largest impediment to economic growth


"A recent U.S. Department of Energy headline reminds us of just how lucky we are:

“U.S. customers experienced an average of nearly six hours of power interruptions in 2018.”

... that means we Americans have our electricity interrupted for less than 6 hours of the 8,760 hours in a year.

... the International Energy Agency (IEA)
– the energy advisor to the now 38 nations that have the richest, healthiest, and longest-living people that utilize coal, oil, and natural gas for over 80% of their energy supply.

And that definition is what gets considered as having “electricity access.”

Consider the following from IEA:

    “In our projections, the average household who has gained access has enough electricity to power four lightbulbs operating at five hours per day, one refrigerator, a fan operating 6 hours per day, a mobile phone charger and a television operating 4 hours per day, which equates to an annual electricity consumption of 1,250 kWh per household with standard appliances,”
International Energy Agency, November 13, 2019

... This means that a home that uses 1,250 kWh per year is deemed as having “access” to electricity.

UN data has the still developing world as having an average of 4-5 people per home.

That means electricity access is “gained” when a per person use rate becomes 280 kWh per year.

... hat is a woefully insufficient interpretation.

... World Bank data puts U.S. electricity use per person at nearly 13,000 kWh per year.  

In other words, we have a global definition of having “gained” access to electricity when a person uses just 2% (1/50th) of the electricity that we Americans use.

Imagine what that means ... in context of your own life.

... imagine if you had NO electricity for 358 out of 365 days of the year, yet you were still classified as “having electricity.”

What this really means is that the too easily repeated “1 billion people have no electricity” is way too low.

The true numbers are much higher than that ...

The 1.2 billion humans in Sub-Saharan Africa are easily the most impacted, with 1.4 billion India not far behind.

These forgotten souls are not lecturing about climate and eliminating fossil fuel use from the ivory towers of Yale, Penn State, and Stanford, but spend their days collecting fuel and completing the mundane tasks to survive that we conquered well over a century ago.

For example, lacking any real chance for societal upward mobility, “collectively, South African women and children walk a daily distance equivalent to 16 trips to the moon and back to fetch water.”

I’m 15 years into studying this elephant in the room, and estimate that somewhere around 4 billion people lack enough electricity to enjoy a modern life; which I conclude is around an EU-like annual level of 6,000 kWh per person.

Energy poverty is the largest limiting factor to economic growth: some 3 billion humans rely on biomass like wood, dung, and charcoal for cooking and heating.

Electricity is no small thing -- electrification is considered the “Greatest Scientific Achievement of the 20th Century.”

All of our global human development goals have electricity as a core enabling force, an absolutely essential input for a higher Human Development Index.

... as the information technology revolution that has become “indispensable to the modern economy, underpinning the economies of the developed world” constantly marches on, the digital divide horrifically continues to widen because around half of the global population lacks adequate access to electricity.  

... All of this has been effectively ignored of course, far too often by rich Westerners that have all the energy that they need at their fingertips, yet now seek to block poor people from having access to that same energy supply: oil, coal, gas.

All energy options must remain on the table in our pursuit of human development and reducing emissions, because technological progress is constant and all energy systems are evolving as cleaner and their future is unknowable: ...

Lifting billions of poverty gets ignored because it entails a simple but hard to accept for some undeniable truth.

With six in every seven humans today living in still developing nations, the world of tomorrow will need so much more energy than the world of today.  

... by 2050, the world will add over 2 billion people and $85 trillion in GDP.

Just as obviously, this “more and more energy” drumbeat means more fossil fuels, already accounting for over 80% of global supply.

... the idea of “only wind, only solar” meeting these immense and growing energy needs is as unserious and unfair as it sounds.

The good news is that leaders in poor countries will not stand idle as flourishing outsiders try to limit the critical growth opportunities that their struggling masses necessitate that they pursue.  

... IEA ... only has per capita electricity usage under a universal access to electricity scenario reaching 700 kWh in sub-Saharan Africa in 2040, under a quarter of today’s global average and about what we Americans used in the 1930s.

In the end I must give IEA tremendous credit, it seems to be the only one even reporting the gigantic energy poverty problem that does not have its head in the “only renewables” clouds like much of the academia, interest groups, and international organizations demand that we all live in.

... the energy virtue signaling and clear hypocrisy of the privileged West must be continually exposed."