There are currently over 1 billion people, more than 1/7th of the world’s population, that do not have access to electricity. The majority of these people live below the poverty line, and rely massively on fossil fuels and biomass for their heating and lighting. The United Nations is working towards a world of universal electricity access by 2030, and while this is hopeful, it’s certainly not impossible!
It’s obvious to anyone that access to electricity goes hand in hand with wealth, and in turn quality of life. The issue is that poorer areas, which lack access to electricity, must rely on fossil fuels in order to bring heat and light into their homes. Because of impoverished countries’ massive dependence on fossil fuels, their governments and their people invariably live under a constant economic strain. Governments always have to keep an eye on the world’s unstable oil prices, and money that could potentially go into things like healthcare and education has to be spent on subsidies in order to keep prices affordable for the population at large. There have been many international policies intended to mitigate this issue, but a tiny proportion of all the subsidies to fossil fuel consumption reach the very poorest rungs of the people in these countries. For some time, this tragic state of affairs has been seen as a vicious cycle with no real hope of radical change. However, with the rising accessibility to renewable energy, there may be a light at the end of the tunnel.
There are a wide range of socio-economic benefits which renewables could provide to people in these impoverished areas. First and foremost, many new jobs would be created by the installation and continued running of these systems. Though we’re seeing various leaps forward in poverty-stricken countries, such as Kenya’s Renewable Energy Conference, there’s been no major change in the horrific unemployment rates affecting many impoverished areas, and a lot of work is still needed. Another major benefit that renewables could promise to poverty-stricken areas is making countries more economically independent. With a thriving renewable energy sector, nations will no longer have to rely on various imports. The massive savings this promises can then be pumped into stimulating businesses and social programs which will benefit the poor of the country in question. Certain renewables, such as solar energy, can be set up in rural areas cheaply, without the need to invest in any costly transmission lines. In simpler terms, renewables have massive potential to deliver electricity to impoverished people in a very short space of time. This means businesses will be able to stay open for longer, employing more people, and that children will be able to study for longer into the night, rather than having to source fuel for more primitive light and heating sources. These are just a few of the ways that renewables can improve people’s quality of life in impoverished countries; the possibilities go on and on!
Aside from protecting the environment we all depend on, renewable energy has massive potential to help those who need it most.