Power to the People

The Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) Initiative focuses on the provision of sustainable energy to everyone, especially the poorest regions of the world that still lack electricity infrastructure.  Prior to 2014, rural energy projects have not been a priority. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – goals set by the UN for the developing world – didn’t even include an energy goal, an omission that arguably held up the achievement of other UN development goals. The realization that electricity infrastructure in rural villages could, say, improve access to education – one of the MDGs – still hasn’t increased funding for rural energy projects.

SE4ALL has changed that.  It has set three the ambitious goals: (1) ensuring universal access to modern energy services by 2030, (2) doubling the rate of improvement in energy efficiency measures and, (3) doubling the share of renewable energy worldwide.  While we’ve learned a number of lessons in the last three decades about how to achieve these goals, several case studies since 2005 point to a number of lessons that have been overlooked.  In particular, codes and standards for safety and quality design, operation and maintenance, required training for users and importance of different system components are lacking. Since all of them are necessary for system sustainability and use, it begs the questions of whether universal access to modern energy services by 2030 will indeed be achievable.

And yet despite these obstacles, the importance of the providing sustainable energy for all continues to be emphasized by the United Nations. The UN has designated 2014-2024 the Decade of Sustainable Energy for All.  This means that the United Nations has directed its member states to prioritise the energy needs of the 1.3 billion people without access to electricity services and the 2.6 billion people still relying on traditional biomass for heating and cooking.  This designation also recognizes the importance of sustainable energy in meeting both the Millennium Development Goals and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Not only can access to sustainable energy help alleviate poverty, its linkage to climate change mitigation and adaptation is important but programs to date have failed to take advantage of this connection. Sustainable energy sources can help meet climate change adaptation goals by decreasing vulnerability of populations to disasters and providing a solution for disaster reconstruction projects.

Additionally, renewable energy sources can, if they are designed properly, be even more resilient than current energy sources. But in the past, systems have been designed poorly; the infrastructure is not able to sustain climate-caused disasters and set communities on a cyclical course of destruction and reconstruction.  Badly designed or installed systems can thus increase vulnerability, which has already contributed to the delay of some MDG’s and other poverty alleviation goals.

To move beyond these issues and finally achieve sustainability for all, these negative experiences must be examined, understood, and eventually incorporated into policy. This series of articles will examine the issues facing SE4ALL, to better understand the work that needs to be done to finally reach a sustainable future for all people.


Image Credit: Olivier Tetard via Wikimedia Commons.


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