Improving people’s access to sustainable energy

26 October 2012

One in five people around the world – 1.3 billion people – lack electricity to light their homes or run their businesses, while wealthy countries consume vast amounts of electricity every day. IIED’s energy team works to promote access to sustainable energy for the poorest communities and a more equitable consumption of energy resources. Energy access is an area of great inequity. Access to sustainable modern energy services underpins health, education and livelihoods and increases resilience to climate change – yet millions of people have no access to electricity and use dangerous and unhealthy fuels for lighting and cooking.

Access to energy in Nigeria | Access to energy in South Africa | Biomass energy | Biofuels

A girl studies under the light of a rechargeable solar lamp. Without the lamp she couldn’t study at night as her home in Natore, Bangladesh has no access to electricity. Photo: G.M.B. Akash/PANOS

1.3 billion people — 20% of the world's population — have no electricity, and 2.7 billion people do not have clean and safe access to energy for cooking, leading them to breathe in toxic smoke created when burning charcoal, wood, coal or animal waste to cook their food.

IIED researches the potential of initiatives to improve people’s access to sustainable energy to promote socio-economic development and reduce poverty. Adapting initiatives to specific social, cultural and political contexts, learning from successful experiences and scaling up successful pilot projects are all key challenges facing access to energy projects. In-depth case-study analysis of projects and country contexts allows us to explore how to overcome these challenges.

Our approach is to build an ‘evidence base’ for advocacy work with government, business and civil society. Developing this kind of evidence also facilitates advocacy in the policy arena and catalyses change in policy and practice. By building dialogue and problem-solving capacities among stakeholders and promoting good practice – and learning from failure – we seek to stimulate the replication and ‘scaling up’ of effective technologies and approaches.

We commission research in many parts of the globe, including Africa, Asia and Latin America. Some of our recent access to energy research includes:

 

We collaborate with a number of partners on furthering our understanding:

  • HEDON shares information on household energy solutions in developing countries, and coordinates the DELiVER (Decentralised Energy for Livelihoods, Environment and Resilience network, a collection of UK-based organisations focused on delivery models for overcoming the barriers to cleaner, affordable and more convenient energy access in developing countries.
  • IIED is collaborating on a book with Practical Action on energy delivery models
  • We are building relationships with ground-partners to build in more rigorous monitoring of how particular energy service projects work (or fail) in differing contexts and how they can scale. This helps in building a broader evidence base to enrich our energy delivery models framework. Examples of these partnerships include the SUNGAS project in Nigeria and CHOICES in South Africa.

Read ODI / Chronic Poverty Advisory Network's new report on how access to energy can assist with policies for the chronically poor. Energy for all: harnessing the power of energy access for chronic poverty reduction

Energy Team Leader - Emma Wilson

 

Access to energy in Nigeria

A closer look at the large flare from the Exxon refinery. Burns very bright at night and can be seen for miles. Credit: Kristian Dela CourNigeria has vast oil and gas reserves and abundant renewable energy potential. Yet the country’s energy crisis undermines its ability to reduce poverty and support socio-economic development. We work with ‘champions’ of sustainable energy who are carrying out projects to secure access to energy for poor communities within the country and analyse the impacts of this work IIED’s publication explores how international oil and gas companies can contribute to tackling energy poverty in regions where they operate by developing initiatives with governments, donors and civil society.

We are carrying out research on a gas-to-power demonstration project which consists of converting the ‘associated gas’ (the gas that is produced when oil is extracted) to generate electricity instead of flaring it. This project, together with a series of renewable energy projects and wider research on access to energy issues in Nigeria, are part of an EU-funded programme led by IIED called the SUNGAS project. The evidence base that the SUNGAS project is building feeds into the project’s advocacy work with government, business and civil society – producing reports and briefing papers and engaging with potential ‘champions’ of sustainable energy in the country at all levels.

A report on the considerable potential for renewable energy in Nigeria explores how this could bridge major energy gaps in rural areas. [paper to appear shortly].

 

Our work on the SUNGAS project is carried out in collaboration with the Niger Delta Wetlands Centre (NDWC),the Living Earth Foundation, the New Nigeria Foundation (NNF), ICEED (International Centre for Energy, Environment and Development), and the Stakeholder Democracy Network (SDN).

 

Access to energy in South Africa

Community and household options in choosing energy services (CHOICES-SA) is exploring the feasibility of community-participation models for delivering rural energy services to communities without electricity in the Eastern Cape of the country.

Greater access to on-grid and off-grid electrification has been pursued in South Africa since the mid-1990s to foster socio-economic development and poverty reduction. Success has been hampered by:

  • the unreliability and low capacity of off-grid initiatives,
  • a dilapidated, overstretched coal-based grid network, and
  • a lack of effective payment systems for poor users.

Previous interventions have lacked meaningful involvement of local communities meant to benefit from the scheme. The project aim is to work with communities to explore, and attract investment to energy initiatives that can improve quality of life and create local development opportunities.

CHOICES-SA aims to build the community’s knowledge and capacity by developing:

  • Knowledge of what local alternative energy resources are available,
  • A better understanding of how the community is using energy and how they could use energy more efficiently, and
  • the community’s business skills so they can collaborate with investors and developers who share their green energy vision in future.

We are working with three partners on this project:

Biomass energy

Helida Ouka (left) and Eunice Omondi (right) show off the 'Uhai stove'Many poor countries have vast renewable energy resources that remain untapped, or are used unsustainably. Developing nations have an untapped resource that could enable them to fight poverty, create jobs, gain energy independence and help to both limit and adapt to climate change. An IIED report urges developing nations to take advantage of their dependence on biomass fuels — such as wood and charcoal — and move towards green economies in which the poor benefit from producing sustainable, clean energy.

IIED has carried out research on how to optimise the contribution of woody biomass to renewable energy provision and legitimate income generation, and the pros and cons of biomass. An IIED briefing discusses the potential social impacts of biomass plantations in developing countries and calls for greater public scrutiny and debate about the issue.

We ask some hard questions about biomass investments and this blog and this briefing warns that rising demand for renewable energy sources could drive land grabs.

 

Biofuels

Oil palm fruits. The oil extracted from the fruits is used for cooking oil and also for biodiesel. Interest in biofuels, such as palm oil, is increasing, but the expansion of biofuel plantations could have a negative impact on biodiversity and the environment.Africa has recently seen a rapid expansion of biofuel investments. Major agricultural investment in biofuel in, for example, Ghana and Liberia, raises concerns about land-use conflict and food security. IIED is exploring the impacts of the biofuels boom on land access and how different types of business models can provide benefits for smallholders. Very little is known about the exact terms of land deals acquired by agribusiness and government agencies, and a report discusses the contractual issues based on 12 land deals from different parts of Africa.

Our research isn’t just restricted to Africa. A report on the oil palm sector in East Malaysia documents lessons learned through case studies of different business models.