Energy poverty and political vision in the developing world

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Political leadership is vital in addressing energy poverty issues in Africa and other developing regions, writes Alejandro Litovsky for Open Democracy – calling on leaders to adopt a “stronger and more coherent vision”.

The delivery of affordable, reliable and sustainable power to citizens is one of this century’s “key challenges”, the 4 September article remarks. Around 2.64 billion people – 40% of the world’s population – lack modern fuel for cooking and heating and 1.64 billion have no access to electricity – three-quarters of whom live in rural areas. 

Litovsky claims that innovation will allow the poor to develop SMEs by generating energy independently – citing wind, solar, hydro and biomass power, plus LED lighting as examples. He adds that off-grid projects are becoming more popular in areas isolated from public grids. 

Litovsky believes that such initiatives “deliver real change on the ground”, powering water pumps and facilitating access to refrigerated medicines, light schoolrooms and mobile telecommunications. 

He laments that international efforts to bridge this “energy gap” are often “fragmented”, with “scaling up” pilot projects requiring “political commitment” – accusing several African governments of failing to fully support entrepreneurial approaches. 

Meanwhile, new renewable energy enterprises face “institutional barriers” that harm their competitiveness, claims Litovsky – although he concedes that investment conditions for such enterprises are being improved, particularly through public-private partnerships and innovative investment from international donors such as the EU and the UNDP. 

However, Litovsky believes that inter-agency cooperation must be improved, requiring the development of energy strategies linking stakeholders. More must be done to facilitate government reforms, such as improving the link between the revenue management of natural resources, investment in sustainable technology and providing energy solutions for the poor. 

He calls for leaders to be “visionaries”, promoting renewable energy sources. The private sector can provide “strong partners” to deliver change “on the ground”, though this depends on the “capacity and willingness of democratic leaders”. Companies are becoming increasingly interested in those comprising “the base of the economic pyramid”, he adds. 

Litovsky concludes by outlining four ways in which governments can act: 

  • By creating economic incentives to innovate that benefit local entrepreneurs – through targeted public subsidies. 
  • By embracing the private sector as an opportunity to “improve the skills and capacities of the poor”, promoting energy independence through decentralised and renewable energy generation. 
  • By developing good governance in the energy sector to fight corruption and guarantee the rule of law and transparency of accounts and decision-making in the private sector. 
  • By improving capacity and leveraging private capital and knowledge by encouraging public-private partnerships. 

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