28 August 2013

Making Energy Access Meaningful

In the current issue of Issues in Science and Technology, published by the US National Academy of Sciences, Morgan Bazilian and I have a new paper out on global energy access. Here is an excerpt from the introduction:
Our distinctly uncomfortable starting place is that the poorest three-quarters of the global population still only use about ten percent of global energy – a clear indicator of deep and persistent global inequity. Because modern energy supply is foundational for economic development, the international development and diplomatic community has rightly placed the  provision of modern energy services at the center of international attention focused on a combined agenda of poverty eradication and sustainable development. This priority has been expressed primarily in the launching of the UN Sustainable Energy for All initiative (SE4All). Still, areas of tension and conflict within such an agenda demand further attention, particularly in relation to climate change, as we discuss later in this essay.

Compounding the difficulty of decision-making in such a complex space is that the concept of “energy access” is often defined in terms that are unacceptably modest. Discussions about energy and poverty commonly assume that the roughly two to three billion people who presently lack modern energy services will only demand or consume them in small amounts over the next several decades. This assumption leads to projections of future energy consumption that are not only potentially far too low, but therefore imply, even if unintentionally, that those billions will remain deeply impoverished. Such  limited ambition risks becoming self-fulfilling, because the way we view the scale of the challenge will strongly influence the types of policies, technologies, levels of investment and investment vehicles that analysts and policy makers consider to be appropriate.
You can read the whole thing (free!) as a PDF here. Comments welcomed!

Bazilian, M. and R. Pielke, Jr. 2013. Making Energy Access Meaningful (full version with figures). Issues in Science and Technology Summer:74-79