The divergent fates of two community mini-grids in Nigeria illustrate why energy systems should be built to enable economic transformation.
Originally published in Issues in Science and Technology, March 2022.
Over the past two decades, the United Nations, the World Bank, regional development banks, and national governments have led efforts to give more people access to electricity. The movement has made significant gains: in Asia alone, about 1.2 billion people have gained electricity access since 2000. Still, these initiatives to extend energy access globally are not delivering much-needed outcomes in pace, scale, and improvements in quality of life. Today, in 2022, around 770 million people do not have access to electricity. More tellingly, 2.6 billion people use wood, coal, dung, and kerosene stoves to cook indoors, leading to approximately 2.5 million premature deaths from smoke every year.
Providing access to affordable, sustainable, and modern energy services has the potential to be transformational. Improved access to energy could alleviate poverty, improve health and gender equality, and address climate change, among other objectives that the United Nations has defined as Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). However, around 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are projected to remain without access to electricity in 2030. And most of the countries that have yet to achieve universal modern energy access also rank low in their climate change adaptation capacities. Addressing this dire scenario requires more than the standard prescription of energy access—and will entail a transformation in policy to deliberately lift communities out of economic poverty.
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