‘Affordable and clean energy’ is #7 in the world’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It is clearly related to many of the other SDGs, such as those covering health, gender, water and sanitation, decent work, sustainable cities, climate action and others. 1,4 billion people currently have no access to electricity and instead use kerosene and candles for lighting purposes. Three billion people cook and heat with biomass, causing 4 million deaths per year.
Therefore it is all the more surprising that debates often center on technology and supply side solutions rather than taking energy users, many of whom live and work at the base of the pyramid (BoP), as a starting point. In other words, they focus on what’s possible with technology in the short term rather than applying an effective multi-sectoral lens when developing solutions for these people in the medium- and long term.
All too often, well-meaning donors, NGOs and companies spend public or private money to provide top-notch technological solutions to these issues while failing to take basic realities into account. As a result, success is often short-lived at best, with negative implications sometimes more likely.
The lessons on appropriate solutions are clear and I have been working with partners to implement these effectively: solutions must respond to an actual need and be affordable; when considering affordability, not just the initial purchase of hardware but also cost for installation, maintenance and repair need to be factored in; local providers should be able to install, operate and maintain equipment using spare parts and appliances that do not become obsolete in the long-run; local labour and other resources should be employed as much as possible; and last but not least, equipment must be built with local conditions, such as heat, dust, etc. in mind.
Now it is time for all public and private actors to internalise and apply these lessons. This is true not only for solutions in the energy sector but for all sectors in which technology can make a difference to the lives of the poor, including medical technology and technology for the production of everyday necessities for example.