As the world continues to modernize, there are still several regions with no access to energy and no chance for development. Finding solutions for the inadequate and unequal distribution of energy is more urgent than ever. Amid a global pandemic, 25% of hospitals in “Cambodia, Myanmar, Nepal, Kenya, Ethiopia and Niger” have no electricity. Electricity is essential in fighting this crisis (or any other). Taking a closer look at the struggles of energy poverty, renewable energy in Iceland provides an example of a nation that overcame these issues.
The Importance of Energy
The United Nations recognizes the importance of energy for development with SDG 7: “Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.” Reliable energy systems benefit all sectors, including businesses, medicine, education and agriculture. Inadequate electricity creates obstacles in situations that citizens of developed countries take for granted. For example, without electricity, clinics cannot store vaccines and students cannot do homework at night. SDG 7 states that affordable and clean energy is necessary to raise any developing nation out of poverty.
Energy Poverty and Off-Grid Energy Systems
The World Economic Forum defines energy poverty as conditions that “lack of adequate, affordable, reliable, quality, safe and environmentally sound energy services to support development.” Currently, 13% of the world’s population (one billion people) lack access to electricity. The vast majority live in Africa and South Asia while 57% of the sub-Saharan African population (600 million people) live without electricity. Any form of sustainable development requires access to energy. Nations suffering from energy poverty cannot afford the energy that could propel them out of poverty. This locks them in the cycle of poverty.
Geography stands as one of SDG 7’s biggest obstacles. The countries in the most need typically cannot access grid electricity. In developing countries, expanding the electricity grid is neither financially nor logistically realistic. These rural areas need off-grid or stand-alone solutions to their energy problems. Renewable energy can provide off-grid energy and “give developing countries the opportunity to erase the electricity gap without passing through a phase of fossil fuels, that would be hard to sustain in terms of cost, natural resources and global environment.”
The Success Story of Iceland
At the beginning of the 20th century, Iceland was ranked as a developing country. In 1970, the largest share of Iceland’s energy consumption was derived from imported fossil fuels and the United Nations Development Program labeled the nation as a developing country. As of 2018, Iceland was the fifth most prosperous nation in Europe, acquires nearly 100% of consumed electricity from renewable energy.
Iceland has always been very spread out, making an interconnected energy grid too costly. This combined with fluctuating and unsustainable oil prices drove the Icelandic government to seek alternative energy systems. Through government funding and incentive programs, geothermal and hydropower energy systems took over the Icelandic economy.
The link between energy and poverty reduction is evident and undeniable. Renewable energy in Iceland transformed an impoverished, developing nation, dependent on imported coal and local peat into a prosperous, green energy leader. Many people believe the green energy movement is exclusive to wealthy nations, businesses and individuals. This is understandable considering the price of electric cars and solar panels. However, Iceland proves this idea wrong. Iceland completely transformed into a green economy as a small, developing nation.
One might argue that Iceland is a unique and unrepeatable example because of its proximity to renewable resources; however, this is far from the truth. Iceland overcame the two biggest obstacles that every energy-poor nation faces: poor funding and excessive off-grid populations. Iceland’s success does not provide a one-size-fits-all solution for every nation facing an energy crisis; however, developing countries around the world should gain hope and inspiration from renewable energy in Iceland.
– Ella LeRoy