"Without energy, nothing is possible." That was the dramatic opening slide of a talk on modern energy for sustainable development by a former Director of UNEP DTIE in June, 2002.
In other words, the 575 million people in Africa (60 percent of the population) without access to reliable, modern forms of energy cannot attain better conditions of life.
On that note, one can't help but agree wholeheartedly with the point emphasized by Johansson and Goldemberg in Energy for Sustainable Development--A Policy Agenda (2002):
"Given that they can so dramatically increase human capabilities and opportunities, adequate energy services are integral to poverty alleviation and environmentally sound social and economic development."
There are several ways in which energy helps improve living standards. Eric Usher of UNEP has highlighted a few that i consider quite relevant to most African countries:
- Education: from reading by candlelight to internet access
- Health: from disease to well-being
- Agriculture: from crop losses to food preservation
- Communication: from isolation to networking
UN-Energy has done a comprehensive report covering the large number of ways in which energy may contribute to the attainment of the Millenium Development Goals in Africa and elsewhere in the developing world.
But the use of modern energy technologies comes with adverse environmental, social and political issues that are well known. So what we need is a transition from the most common energy systems in use today, to an alternative regime of technologies and institutions that can provide for everyone while decreasing harmful side-effects. They include techniques and institutions for:
- promoting more efficient use of energy, particularly in electrical appliances, vehicles and production processes;
- expanding the use of renewable energy technologies such as wind, solar photovoltaic (PV) and hydroelectric systems (preferably on small-scale); and
- Accelerating the deployment of "new energy technologies particularly next-generation fossil fuel technologies that release almost no harmful emissions into the atmosphere."
These have come to be known as "sustainable energy" in energy-development speak.
UNEP's Energy Branch is one of several international bodies that are working to expand access to sustainable energy in Africa. Eric has provided a nice summary of our work in the slide below.