Energy access transforms lives

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On 8th August Sam Durham will come to CAT for Energy Day – our open summer event where you can explore energy issues in a variety of exciting new ways, part of Festival of the Future. Sam is an energy campaigner for Practical Action. Here he gives a preview of the issues he plans to talk about.

At Practical Action we believe in using technology to challenge poverty, and use numerous energy technologies to help people work their way out of poverty.

In the UK, we take energy for granted. Every morning, many people will switch on a multitude of energy guzzling devices without even thinking. Much of these have improved our well-being, giving labour-saving and health benefits such as keeping food cool, boiling water and cooking food, not to mention powering our hospitals, businesses, shops, schools, banks, emergency services, communication systems and government.

So, imagine what it might be like for a fifth of the world’s population that has no access to electricity.

One and a half billion of the world’s people have no access to electricity. Three billion people rely on wood and coal for cooking rather than more efficient and less polluting fuels. A staggering 1.4 million people, mostly women and children, die each year as a result of inhaling smoke from traditional stoves.

Delivering energy access enables the world’s poorest people to have better lives. All communities need modern energy for cooking, boiling water, heating their homes, lighting the darkness and preserving their food. Energy also enables people to be healthier and to benefit from educational and cultural opportunities.

However, massive energy infrastructures are not the solution as they will not reach the poor communities living in isolated rural areas. Energy access must reach the people that need it, and this is where Practical Action’s small-scale, low-cost, practical solutions come in, solutions including micro-hydro power, small-scale wind power, solar power or improved cook stoves. With these simple answers for providing energy, perhaps the developing world can show the UK the way to provide its future energy needs.

What emerges from the work Practical Action does around the world is how critical the relationship is between people and energy – how it can hold people back and how it can transform lives.

Rosa, a Turkana woman living in the Kakuma refugee camp in north western Kenya, clearly states the problems facing many: “For me, getting energy for cooking and lighting is a daily worry. It’s so hard to find firewood that I cook for my family only once a day, in the evening. The fire provides the light for cooking and eating a meal with my children. After eating is bedtime.”

Mamdhur is a farmer from an indigenous group who lives with his family in the foothills of the Nepal Himalaya. He explains how improved lighting changed his life: “Now we have electric lighting, we are very much relieved. We have more time to spend with our children and families, and no longer breathe in the smoke from the kerosene lamp that used to hurt our lungs. It was my dream to have lighting facilities in my village. The dark has turned to light.”

Access to modern energy can truly transform the lives of people living in poverty.