Sustainable Energy for All
In 2011, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched an initiative called Sustainable Energy for All. There are three primary objectives: (1) universal access to modern energy services, (2) doubling the rate of improvement in global energy efficiency and (3) doubling the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix. The UN established these goals in the hopes of achieving worldwide sustainable energy access by 2030.

Three billion people currently lack access to affordable energy services for basic uses like cooking and heating. Another one billion people rely on erratic power grids. Sustainable Energy for All is an international effort to decrease the scope of this energy access issue. Introducing clean energy would reduce global emissions, improve the lives of the poor and support ongoing development goals. Additionally, embracing clean energy would help keep the average rise of global temperatures in check.

However, renewable energy has just recently become economically comparable to traditional fuels, and bringing clean energy services to rural and remote communities is a challenge. At the current rate of progress, the UN’s objectives under Sustainable Energy for All will likely not be achieved by the desired date. In fact, the International Energy Agency calculates that around 1 billion people will still not have access to electricity in 2030.

Energy inequality is especially significant for women and girls living in poor or secluded areas. Many risk their safety by spending hours a week collecting firewood far away from home. Conventional kerosene lamps and cooking fires contribute to a number of health issues, such as heart disease and breathing issues. To combat the problem, nations like the United States, China and Vietnam have proposed expanding electricity grids. However, the logistics of doing so would be difficult; it is especially expensive for rural communities with low populations.

Luckily, clean energy technologies are becoming more affordable, making them stronger contenders with conventional power sources. However, reaching universal access to energy services would cost $48 billion. Approximately $37 billion is already spent annually on kerosene and traditional cooking fuels, such as charcoal. On the other hand, the clean energy industry is maturing – now constituting $250 billion of the global economy.

A new wave of clean energy entrepreneurs has emerged as a result. SunFarmer, based in the United States, is one of several non-profit organizations that helps bring reliable and affordable solar electricity to hospitals and schools in remote developing areas. The market for solar-powered products (such as televisions, radios and even water pumps) is growing as well. As part of the Sustainable Energy for All campaign, the UN created the Energy Access Practitioner Network in 2011. The Network facilitates the delivery of energy services to developing countries and supports the implementation of new renewable technologies.

In order to fully integrate clean energy services into the developing world, government subsidies for charcoal and kerosene should first be eliminated or decreased. Additionally, tariffs on imports for clean energy products should be abolished; more than 30 countries currently impose taxes on imported products like solar lanterns and clean stoves. Once these policies are addressed, clean energy technologies could have a much better chance of reaching the developing world.

— Kristy Liao

Sources: Huffington Post, Nature, Sustainable Energy, UN Foundation
Photo: United Nations


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