This holiday week is a fitting time to reflect on what true energy independence and access to clean energy for all can mean for humanity. The International Energy Agency (IEA) states, “Energy access is about providing modern energy services to everyone around the world. These services are defined as household access to electricity and clean cooking facilities (e.g. fuels and stoves that do not cause air pollution in houses).” In short, energy access is about social justice and economic opportunity.
As we move into the new year, it is important to keep the larger perspective in mind: access to energy is as basic as any other human right. As such, uncertainty around available energy supply and the cost of it needs to be minimized so that everyone can have energy security. Accessible energy also needs to be clean so that we can tackle the rapid change in global warming caused by society’s heavy reliance on carbon-emitting fuels.
Mandalay. Courtesy of Silicon Valley photographer Christopher Michel.
Energy Independence is Energy Security
According to the IEA, 17% of the world’s population lacks access to electricity. When frustrated about not finding an outlet for your mobile phone at a coffee shop, consider what this figure means. More than 1 in 6 people around the world cannot turn on a light at night; store food in a refrigerator; or have peace of mind knowing that if they have a medical emergency at night, the doctor will be able to see what’s wrong. As the IEA puts it, “Modern energy services are crucial to human well-being and to a country’s economic development.” They refer to this gap as “energy poverty” because the inaccessible energy to cover the most basic needs of everyday life creates a vicious circle that keeps entire populations from developing. So, when 1.2 billion people are cut off from the global grid, it becomes a matter of social justice.
In this context, the term “energy independence” really means energy security. There are many reasons why such a large share of the world’s population is still without electricity. Most of these people live in rural areas in sub-Saharan Africa or the developing parts of Asia. These areas are often remote, far from power plants, and in places where there are no economic incentives for the private sector to do the job.
We need to think beyond traditional approaches to making this population energy-independent. To help lift these people from the cycle of poverty aggravated by a lack of energy, the mix must include resources that are not reliant on a grid in addition to distributed renewable energy sources that can generate electricity on-site. Recent technological advances in solar, hydrogen, batteries and even wind make them promising candidates to be included in this mix.
Accessible Energy Needs to be Clean
This year saw the most comprehensive climate agreement ever. As we wrote earlier in the year, there were two key drivers behind the landmark Paris Agreement signed by almost 200 nations: climate change and the technological development of sustainable energy sources. The urgency of nations to act to reduce greenhouse emissions was finally matched by enabling technology that would help adopting countries become sustainable without compromising on economic growth.
The world cannot afford to generate new electricity for the 17% that do not have it using fossil fuels. We do not need to compromise on sustainability to bring energy security to all. We have a golden opportunity to connect the 1.2 billion people who need energy independence, and who have been overlooked by traditional ways to generate and deliver electric power, without increasing CO2 emissions.
The good news is that 2016 also brought the number of new solar and wind installations to record levels, and for the first time, the capacity of renewables surpassed that of coal. Significant advances were also made in hydrogen production and storage capabilities, including Hydrogen 2.0, which has the potential to produce hydrogen fuel cleanly on-site and on-demand, from nearly any water source.
In their Energy Outlook for 2016, the IEA stated, “Access to modern energy is essential for the provision of clean water, sanitation, and healthcare and for the provision of reliable and efficient lighting, heating, cooking, mechanical power, transport and telecommunications services.” This is quite a comprehensive list of the basic elements for peaceful progress that every society should be entitled to have.
As we close an epic year that saw political and technological progress in energy sustainability, Joi Scientific remains committed as ever to bringing clean energy security for all. We look forward to the day when the remaining 17% of the world’s population can finally flip a switch and light a room—it will be nothing short of transformational.
As the Hydrogen 2.0 ecosystem gains momentum, we’ll be sharing our views and insights on the new Hydrogen 2.0 Economy. We also update our blog every week with insightful and current knowledge in this growing energy field.