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Households are not enough! We need a service-based rather than supply-based approach

A report from "Practical Action"

A definition of access which is based on household connections to the grid will not end energy poverty. Achievement of Universal Energy Access by 2030 will require recognition of the full range of people’s energy needs, not just at household but also at enterprise and community services levels.

Practical Action is a development charity with a difference. They use technology to challenge poverty by building the capabilities of poor people, improving their access to technical options and knowledge. The just published "Poor people’s energy outlook 2013. Energy for community services" is focused on energy for community services: health, education, public institutions, and infrastructure. Here a small excerpt about community services:

"Energy is an enabler. It improves the quality of existing services and paves the way for new services to be made accessible to poor people. Energy reduces opportunity costs, drudgery and wasted effort. It plays a transformative role in increasing the effectiveness and quality of the following community services: 

  • health care: hospitals, clinics, and health posts; 
  • education: schools and training centres; 
  • public institutions: government offi ces, police stations, and religious buildings; 
  • infrastructure services: water and street lighting. 

It is estimated that 1 billion people are served by health facilities without electricity.1 The rates are lowest in South Asia: in India 46 per cent of health facilities, serving an estimated 580 million people, are without electricity. In sub-Saharan Africa more than 30 per cent of health facilities, serving an estimated 255 million people, are without electricity. 

Ensuring accessible, affordable and clean energy access is critical for delivering adequate health services. It needs to be considered alongside investments in infrastructure, as well as staff, equipment, and medicines. People cannot, for example, receive adequate health care if the lack of energy supply means the facility they visit has no electric lighting, refrigeration, or sterilization equipment, and is not able to attract skilled staff. 

In the education sector, it is estimated that more than 50 per cent of children in the developing world go to primary schools without access to any electricity; this affects more than 291 million children worldwide.2 Lack of electricity is equally problematic for students and teachers in secondary and tertiary facilities. It has an impact on: 

  • teaching and learning (vocational tools and equipment and use of information computer technologies); 
  • physical infrastructure (lighting, cooking facilities, space heating and cooling, water pumping, and purification); 
  • human resources and governance (improved conditions for staff through use of modern technology, training, management of records). 

(...) Lastly, public institutions and infrastructure services are another important pillar of community services. This includes institutions such as government administrative offices, religious buildings, community centres and services including street lighting and water pumping. Compared to health and education sectors the above are under-resourced and undervalued in terms of their contribution to community well-being.

However, within the context of decentralization and an increasing recognition of the importance of good governance, the provision of community, district and provincial services is essential. Greater emphasis must be placed on their adequate resourcing in order to ensure the delivery of services that are critical to poor people. Experts from health, education, and other key sectors suggest that energy is too often neglected, and needs to be integrated more effectively to deliver broader benefits. Increased focus on energy for community services is crucial."

Source: Poor people’s energy outlook 2013 Energy for community services, edited by Practical Action Publishing Ltd. 2013

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