Earth's energy enigma

Energy means far more than just the power in a socket. Louise Bingham investigates the differing approaches to tackle the issue

Louise Bingham
25th April 2016

For approximately 1.6 billion people around the world, the future does not look bright; but how, in this day and age, can over a fifth of the population still lack access to electricity?

Energy is one of the most under-appreciated assets we use every day. In fact, I struggle to last even one hour without using some form of electricity to power the lights, broadband, TV, oven… The western world would go into melt down if we experienced a loss of power for as little as one hour, but in some regions of the world, it means so much more.

Without electricity, poverty is exacerbated, social services can’t be delivered, women’s opportunities are limited and environmental sustainability is compromised on multiple scales. With less electricity per person in sub-Saharan Africa today than there was three decades ago, the situation seems to be getting worse. But what is the solution I hear you cry?

Malawi may have found the answer through the implementation of a ‘pay-as-you-glow’ scheme. Previously, less than 9% of Malawi’s population were connected to the grid which is precariously powered by hydroelectric dams from the falling water levels of the River Shire.

By opening up the energy market, the quantity and reliability of the supply can be improved with a focus on solar energy. SolarAid are a charity who sell solar-powered lights that can also charge mobile phones, providing a cheap and cheerful solution even in poor, rural areas.

"With less electricity per person in sub-Saharan Africa today than there was three decades ago, the situation seems to be getting worse"

People can buy a lamp for £8, paid off over time, and the amount of light received is proportionate to the amount you have paid. The monthly cost of the lamp equates to the same as the old, paraffin lamp alternative, making it a financial success as well as environmentally sustainable.

Solar power is a renewable source of energy, which lacks the fire hazard associated with the conventional paraffin lamp, meaning its benefits span beyond the immediate point of use. While the solar lamps may be just one small step on the development ladder, it is a step in the right direction.

Electricity has been named as a priority to improve education, health and prosperity and countries across the African continent are increasingly turning to solar as a sustainable asset that can be utilised to their benefit. Perhaps it’s time for the developed world to follow their lead.

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