Energy Poverty Remains a Global Challenge for the Future

Acknowledging that many people in developing countries do not have access to affordable, reliable, and safe sources of energy, the United Nations General Assembly designated 2012 to be the International Year for Sustainable Energy for All. Expanding access to modern energy services for lighting, heating, refrigeration, cooking, water pumping, communications, and other services is essential for reducing poverty, improving health and education, increasing incomes, and enhancing rural livelihoods. It will be difficult to achieve a number of the internationally endorsed Millennium Development Goals without improving energy access.

With greater energy access, long hours spent collecting fuelwood can instead be directed toward education or income-generating activities. With more reliable lighting, stores and other businesses can stay open into the evening, allowing more economic transactions. Children are able to study after sunset. People’s health improves when the deadly air pollution associated with conventional fuels is eliminated and when health clinics can count on reliable sources of electricity.

Improving energy access is important, but measuring it and facilitating the proper policy measures to increase access are difficult. Energy access means many things to many people: access to cooking fuels, transportation, electricity, and heating and cooling, to name just a few, and not all organizations and governments agree on how to measure it. Single indicator statistics, such as a population’s access to electricity, are simple to collect and can be very powerful, as they give comparable and easily interpreted statistics across regions. Multidimensional indicators, which measure more than one set of data, can be more complex and difficult to compare across regions as they involve several indicators. The advantage of multidimensional indicators, however, is they are more representative of an entire region’s energy access situation and they can drive more all-encompassing policy change.

Energy Poverty Figure 1

The Worldwatch Institute is an independent research organization known around the world for its accessible, fact-based analysis of critical global issues. Learn More