Lack of Access to Electricity is Still a Global Problem

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Most of the U.S. and the industrialized world has access to reliable, and for the most part, affordable power. With that access, it’s easy to forget that much of the world isn’t so fortunate.

While the average American experiences less than six hours without power a year, nearly 12% of the globe would love to have access to just six hours of reliable electricity annually.

Officially, around 1 billion people in the world lack access to electricity, with most of those living in extreme poverty. The International Energy Agency’s (IEA) definition of “access to electricity” is a household having access to around 1,250 kWh of electricity per year. That’s roughly 2% of what the average American family uses annually, what the average American household consumes in a week. Or, viewed in another way, that’s the equivalent of being without power for 358 days out of the year.

“In our projections, the average household who has gained access has enough electricity to power four lightbulbs operating at five hours per day, one refrigerator, a fan operating 6 hours per day, a mobile phone charger and a television operating 4 hours per day, which equates to an annual electricity consumption of 1,250 kWh per household with standard appliances,” the International Energy Agency reported in November 2019. Most living in the industrialized world would not consider these figures as having “access to electricity.”

Some estimates conclude that around 4 billion people in emerging economies such as India and Sub-Saharan Africa don’t have access to an adequate electricity supply to enjoy modern life. Instead, they spend their days fulfilling mundane chores such as retrieving water or procuring wood to burn. Tasks the industrialized world takes for granted are full-time jobs for those in these emerging economies.

One estimate found that a segment of South African women and children collectively walk a daily distance equivalent of 16 trips to the moon and back to fetch water. Imagine how much time they could save and how much easier their lives would be if they had access to electric pumps.

Without a doubt, energy poverty remains the most significant factor limiting economic growth in emerging economies. Having adequate access to affordable, reliable electricity is a critical part of bridging the digital divide and reducing energy poverty.

For that to happen, we will need to keep all energy options on the table. As we’ve written, that won’t just require an “all of the above” approach. It will require “more of the above.” With a diverse resource portfolio, we can enhance global access to affordable and reliable power and combat the plight of energy poverty.