Energy Poverty in Rural Chile
Chile stands out as a frontrunner in Latin America’s renewable energy landscape, with its ambitious 2022 commitment to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Notably, this coastal nation has emerged as a solar and wind energy champion, capitalizing on both developmental efforts and government support to furnish nearly half of its population with clean energy sources.

Although these endeavors mark a commendable stride forward, a significant facet of energy consumption in developing regions remains unaddressed by the Chilean government: energy poverty. This often neglected concern looms over Chile. While affluent households already approach net-zero carbon emissions, a considerable 30% of households still rely on wood for heating, a proportion that balloons to 75% in rural locales.

Even as legislative efforts advocate for more stringent policies aimed at transitioning to renewable energy, the specter of energy poverty in Chile persists, underscoring the complexity of the nation’s energy transformation journey.

The Risks of Energy Poverty in Chile

As Chile approaches the 100% mark for households with access to electricity, the reality for many rural families is an inconsistent and unaffordable electrical line. About 90% of Chileans in a 2018 survey reported spending more than 10% of their monthly income on an energy bill, and even then many still lack access to essential amenities such as heating and consistent internet connection.

Lack of heating is a pressing concern for many rural communities, especially in mountainous regions. This leads to an influx of wood-fueled heating in rural areas where electrical heating is inaccessible. Wood-fueled heating produces far more CO2 emissions and is linked with increased risks of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases in households experiencing energy poverty. Territories in Southern Chile also have increased firewood usage where energy is unavailable. Despite legislators’ claims to work towards shifting these areas towards clean energy, less than 5% of people in polluted areas participate in policy action.

Amidst these issues, Chilean policymakers plan to tighten their carbon tax policy, which disproportionately impacts those already living in energy poverty. These policies could lead to a 16.7% increase in the proportion of households paying more than 10% of their income for access to energy.

Providing Access in Rural Areas

Fortunately, communities and initiative programs alike are working towards improving energy poverty in Chile. One such program is the Energy Inclusion Program founded in 2018, which uses international collaboration and public-private funds to provide equitable energy access to vulnerable consumers. In 2021, an advocate for the Energy Inclusion Program assisted a rural Chilean village north of Santiago in providing hot water and electricity to elderly and struggling families who could not afford energy bills. A community cooperative for renewable energy helped 40 households in the village install a solar farm with a 50kW capacity. Similar initiatives have taken off in many parts of the nation, including programs funded by the Entrepreneurship and Alternative Energy Generation (EGEA) and EBP Chile. 

Moving Forward

Chile’s route towards renewable energy is commendable, and its initiatives have encouraged many other Latin American nations to pursue revised climate-centered legislation. Regardless, energy poverty in Chile negatively impacts rural and impoverished communities that possess limited resources to maintain the country’s lofty net-zero goals. 

Through community inclusion and global programs, families in poverty have renewed prospects towards pushing Chile’s emerging economy to become a global leader in climate change policies and renewable energy.

– Inaya Lala
Photo: Wikipedia Commons