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Sustainable energy access: from policy to the people

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Technician fitting solar panel, Miono region, Tanzania, Africa

Clean, affordable and reliable energy access is one of the most important requisites for decent livelihoods, next to water and food. Unfortunately, our current energy system excludes a major portion of world’s population from this fundamental right.

In several poor energy-importing countries, the high costs of fossil fuels now eat up more than 10% of their GDP. This makes conventional energy unaffordable for 1.4 billion people, mainly in Sub-Saharan Africa and South-Asia, who have only erratic or no access to electricity.

In the same regions, some 2.6 billion people depend on unsustainable biomass and dung for heating and cooking, with major impacts on ecosystems, human health and women. People who suffer most from climate change are often energy-poor.

Access for all

In an effort to solve this problem, WWF principally welcomes UN’s ‘Sustainable Energy for All’ (SE4ALL) Initiative, launched by UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon. WWF strongly supports the first objective of this initiative – ensuring modern energy access for all by 2030. However, we also believe that it should be a binding global and national target and based primarily on sustainable renewable energy (including highly efficient and clean biomass energy).

WWF however has concerns with the other two objectives – 1) doubling the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix and 2) doubling the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency by 2030. These objectives, though meant to trigger clean energy, are indeed not ambitious enough and probably misleading. They are adjusted to an ambition level that suits all actors , and ends up choosing the lowest common denominator in an attempt to appeal to all.

For instance, in the case of renewable energy, just doubling the amount of renewable energy produced (currently 19% contribution of total energy produced), would not guarantee the growth of sustainable renewables. We do not believe that doubling conventional biomass or contentious hydropower is the way forward. Rather, sustainable, highly efficient biomass, sustainable hydropower as well as solar, wind, geothermal should triple and quadruple in next 15 years to deliver social development and keep the world under two degrees of global warming.

Potential for Africa

The challenge of energy poverty which the UN is seeking to address is most widespread in Sub-Saharan Africa. According to the International Energy Agency, six out of the 10 energy poorest countries in the world are found in Sub-Saharan Africa. These include in ascending order; Nigeria, Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda.

Together with four other countries in Asia (India, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Pakistan), these 10 states are where 75% of all those without access to modern energy services live.

WWF is committed to be an important actor in delivering on the UN-led aspiration on SE4ALL in Africa. We recognize that energy poverty has important implications on the long-term harmony between human development and nature conservation.

The dependence on traditional biomass energy is contributing to more than 70% of all forest loss in the 6 countries of East and Southern Africa, where the bulk of WWF’s sustainable energy interventions in Africa are currently focused (Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania).

Overall, an estimated 1.2 million hectares of primary natural forest are lost each year in these six countries. Dependence on traditional forms of biomass is an important key driving force behind this loss. In Uganda, as long as energy poverty persists, the country is expected to lose 100% of all its forests by 2050.

Renewable is doable

Renewable and sustainable energy solutions to address energy poverty are not only available but are getting cheaper every day. The prices for solar PV technologies have fallen at a much faster rate than predicted by any experts, in part due to impressive technological innovation and reduced raw material needs (and hence, lower manufacturing costs).

In the last six years, solar PV costs have fallen by almost 80% on global average and are already cheaper in many developing countries as an offgrid-electricity source than subsidised Diesel. Similarly, onshore wind cost slumped by almost 60% since 2009. However due to various barriers, the growth in adoption of sustainable energy solutions across sub-Saharan Africa still remains a huge challenge.

African energy innovation

With a global network of extensive expertise WWF believes that it can be an important contributor, convener and catalyst in enabling the accelerated widespread adoption and use of renewable sustainable energy solutions in Sub-Saharan Africa. As part of our contribution during this 2015 UN International Year of Light, WWF will implement two important initiatives:

1. Solar lights making peace with lions: Working with WWF Kenya, we are promoting the widespread adoption of a solar lighting solution to resolve the human-wildlife conflict in the Kajiado Masaai tribal lands. For a long time now, hungry lions have been finding easy prey in the kraals of the Masaai tribe (a pastoral tribe of Kenya that lives close to Nairobi National Park).

Because of this, the Maasai routinely take revenge by poisoning the remaining carcasses which the lions would return to eat, pushing the already threatened lion populations to the brink of extinction in that area.

A 13 year old Masaai boy called Richard Turere came up with an ingenious yet simple solar light solution to make peace with lions. His idea involves placing simple solar lights around the kraal with a flickering switch – in the lion’s mind at night, they think these are human beings with spears just waiting at the edge of the kraal to spear them, so they return to the wild to their age old diet of antelopes and zebras.

WWF Kenya is working with several Maasai homes to share Richard’s solar solution as the most preferred peaceful solution to solve a long-standing human wildlife conflict. In addition, WWF Kenya will also be providing some extra lights to enable young people like Richard to do their homework at night in these mostly off-grid energy poor Maasai communities.

We believe this is a way for young people like Richard at the front-lines of energy poverty challenges to come up with more ingenious ways to live a better life and to ensure humans thrive in harmony with nature.

WWF Kenya solar lion deterrent lights
Solar lion deterrent lights installed by WWF and Africa Wildlife Foundation in Kajiado, Masaai Tribal lands in Kenya

2.Solar for Education (S4E):

Working with WWF Tanzania, we are targeting schools as centers of community transformation, we believe that great and ingenious young people like Richard Turere exist in Tanzania too and elsewhere in Africa – but they don’t know much about these modern energy solutions.

We believe that the people facing these energy poverty challenges are the best at imagining the solutions that could solve them. The solutions required to end energy poverty are available and are fast becoming more affordable every year.

We are seeing a greater convergence of global technical and financial sources to address the energy poverty challenge. There is no excuse not to end energy poverty in this generation – not the next. The answers are within our grasp.

Gaurav Dahal is the Energy Access Policy Coordinator for WWF. He is based in New Delhi. Robert Dddamulira is the Energy Coordinator for WWF Regional Office for Africa (ROA). He is based in Kampala.

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Energy access for all: how @climatewwf is working to end energy poverty with renewables

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