The world is indeed a global village where there is no barrier to trade, transportation, communication, media and information exchange via the internet of things as scientific and technological developments have revolutionised different aspects of life. Yet, there are inequalities and exploitation in this global village with the third world nations, comprising of majority of the world’s population, underdeveloped and backward. The fastest way to reduce these inequalities is to address the energy differential that exists in the global village. Some have opined that the drivers for such change must satisfy the social, technological, economic, environmental, and political (STEEP framework) criteria wherein there is continuous generation of energy from methods that do not rely on finite energy resources, are not under the political control of any one nation, ensure environmentally sound development, and meet economic and societal expectations.
In simple terms, energy poverty can be described as the propensity to become incapable of securing a socially and materially necessitated level of energy services in the home, office, or at work – services that satisfy needs which are at the core of human functionings. Such services include but are not limited to lighting, cooking, drying, refrigeration, working appliances, functional IT and communication systems, space and water heating, space cooling or air-conditioning, to mention but a few. While it must be stated ab-initio that the drivers for energy deprivation differs globally, all forms of energy and fuel poverty are underpinned by a common impact on long and short-term mental and physical health, inequality, gender discrimination, indoor air pollution, cold air exposure, deaths, gender discrimination, personal safety, household time budgets, labour productivity and income etc. More importantly, biological energy needs are universal and the benefits derivable from availability of energy services are the same everywhere you turn to worldwide. Some of the reasons behind energy poverty include low income and earning potential, high energy prices, poor energy efficiency, lack of access to energy due to absence of infrastructure to deliver same, policy marginalization, increasing demand or need for energy. Yet, energy service poverty is not static and does not necessarily affect demographically distinct groups of people or race. This presents the idea that once energy poor is not always energy poor. Thus, if effort is made to re-address the causes of energy deprivation, it is possible to avoid energy poverty.
To get to this point, a highlight of the broad range of systemic circumstances that lead to the emergence of domestic energy deprivation including institutional factors, political economies, infrastructural legacies, housing structures, income differentials, and changes to the needs and affordability of utility services has been given a worldwide consideration. Thus, there has been a change in the global understanding of the root cause of energy deprivation to include the politics of self-aggrandizement which leads to gross under-development and underconsumption of energy services. To this end and more recently, there has been a distributional and fiscal implications of state-led policies to address energy consumption, as well as the pathways through which increased access to modern fuels (non-traditional energy sources) contribute to livelihood improvement and human development in more general terms. This allows us to move from a supply-dominated logic underscoring the under-development of technical infrastructures to a more nuanced understanding of the multi-layered political economies and relations of power that drive the emergence and persistence of energy poverty. Although there has been an increased awareness of cultural and political determinants of household energy transitions towards the use of modern fuels in developing countries, what is been done worldwide to ameliorate energy poverty is tapping into the potential of micro-generation and renewable energy investment as an alternative to top-down power grid expansion. In simple terms, solar panels and micro wind generators on every roof top!!!
As stated earlier, if there is one common thread that connects both developed and developing world countries with respect to the underconsumption of energy in the home, it is the pivotal role of energy services. Energy services can be understood to mean the benefits that energy carriers produce for human wellbeing. This definition shifts the perspective away from fuels such as coal, oil, natural gas, uranium, sunlight, wind, along with the complex technologies such as hydrogen fuel cells, carbon capture and storage, advanced nuclear reactors, and superconducting transmission lines to name just a few onto the notion that people do not demand energy per se but energy services like mobility, washing, heating, cooking, cooling and lighting.
Focusing on energy services shifts attention from the primary energy resources onto achieving adequate levels of the stated benefits thus enabling policy goals to be directed to achieving adequate levels of lighting rather than delivering kWh of electricity, considering the role of demand-side management, the environmental impact of the use of energy, the utility and satisfaction received by end users, and the efficiency of energy carriers due to the multifunctional nature of energy services. All of these have the potential to focus on harnessing an hybrid assemblages of technological and social practices, institutional arrangements, shared cultural meanings and norms, knowledge and skills and material technologies and infrastructures as a common resource to combat domestic energy poverty.
The dynamic nature of energy service poverty makes the subject one of great interest to policy makers because it is easier to address energy vulnerability factors by exploring the drivers of deprivation of energy services – the so called socio-technical risks that can tip households into energy poverty, including but not limited to low income and earning potential, high energy prices, poor energy efficiency, lack of access to energy due to absence of infrastructure to deliver same, policy marginalization, increasing demand or need for energy, as already highlighted.
A potential result of this initiative will be the connection of power systems in Europe to the PV generation in North Africa in a world responding to a changing definition of energy as a yardstick for measuring poverty!