Feature Report: Access to Energy: A Crucial Test for Our Planet's Future

3 items of content in this feature report



Emerging Economies: Growing Energy Needs

Emerging economies like China, India, Brazil and soon Africa have overtaken developed countries, generally referred to as "OECD" countries for their membership in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, in driving energy demand. Renewable energies account for an increasingly large share.

Installing reliable power grids is often a major challenge in some tropical countries, like here in India.
Installing reliable power grids is often a major challenge in some tropical countries, like here in India. ©AFP PHOTO - BIJU BORO

The International Energy Agency (IEA)An independent, intergovernmental organization founded within the framework of the OECD... has released a central scenario showing a 37% increase in global primary energyAll energy sources that have not undergone any conversion process and remain in their natural state.. demand by 2040. Two-thirds of this growth in demand will come from non-OECDFounded in 1960, the OECD promotes policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world... countries, with China leading until the mid-2020s before India picks up the slack as from 2025. Meanwhile, demand for energy in sub-Saharan Africa is expected to rise 80% by 2040, fuelled in particular by strong demographic growth that will see the population double to almost 1.8 billion.

Despite this strong growth, however, non-OECD countries will still consume far less energy per capita than their rich-world counterparts did in the 1970s (at comparable levels of GDP per capita).1

Electricity: National Grids, Local Solutions

Providing access to electricityForm of energy resulting from the movement of charged particles (electrons) through a conductor... requires a mix of centralized, large-scale grids and local solutions based on microgrids and stand-alone equipment.

For example, Ethiopia is currently constructing what will be the biggest hydroelectric dam in Africa on the Blue Nile. In Vietnam, the government has multiplied energy access by 20 in the last 35 years through a proactive industrialization policy. And several countries in Asia and Africa, like South Africa, are investing in nuclear energyEnergy produced in nuclear power plants. The enormous amount of heat released during fission of uranium atom nuclei is transferred to water....

Demand for energy in sub-Saharan Africa is set to grow by 80% by 2040.

At the same time, developments in solar photovoltaics (PV) and technical improvements in how biomassIn the energy sector, biomass is defined as all organic matter of plant or animal origin... is used are leading to decentralized, stand-alone solutions. Kenya for example has made this dual approach the basis of a far-reaching program to extend the electricity grid out from the major cities and into nearby rural areas. Meanwhile, in remoter areas, it is developing local systems running on biomass, micro-hydro, solar PV, geothermalDescribes the technology used to tap subsurface heat to produce energy... energy and conventional fuels like dieselDiesel is the name of an internal combustion engine that works by compression-ignition....2

The World Bank is supporting these efforts to develop long-distance energy transmission and decentralized solutions.3

Putting the Able in Renewables

For the United Nations (U.N.), increasing access to energy should be tied to global efforts to reduce greenhouse gasGas with physical properties that cause the Earth's atmosphere to warm up. There are a number of naturally occurring greenhouse gases... emissions and mitigate climate change. It hopes progress in this area will help double both global energy efficiencyIn economic terms, energy efficiency refers to the efforts made to reduce the energy consumption of a system... levels and the share of renewables in the world energy mixThe range of energy sources of a region..

Emerging economies are actively deploying renewable energies in their quest to fuelFuel is any solid, liquid or gaseous substance or material that can be combined with an oxidant... their development by all possible energy sources, gas and nuclear energy included. Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to rely on renewables, including hydropower, to provide half of the growth of its powerIn physics, power is the amount of energy supplied by a system per unit time. In simpler terms, power can be viewed as energy output... generation capacity, which is set to grow fourfold by 2040. China and India have focused more on wind and solar power, while Brazil has preferred hydropower and biomass (organic waste, biofuelsA fuel produced from plant or animal matter. There are currently two types of biofuel..., etc.).

Urbanization Poses a Challenge

Developing countries too are being confronted with the global problem of rapid urbanization, as their mostly rural populations flock to cities. A U.N. report 4 found that an extra 2.5 billion people will live in urban areas by 2050, bringing the total to 66% of the world population (up from 54% today). India, China and Nigeria will be the hardest hit by rural flight.

66% of the world's population will live in cities by 2050

The trend will see continued growth in major world cities but also, in a new phenomenon, an increase in the number of small- and medium-sized cities, says the U.N. Urbanization implies much higher energy intensity. In the developed world, one billion watts are needed for every one million inhabitants in cities. On the other hand, urban concentration in the developed world is also more energy efficient than a spread out population – provided it is well managed, of course. Infrastructure has (usually) preceded mass urbanization in developed countries, whereas cities in developing ones are trying to catch up.


Sources : 

(1) World Energy Outlook 2014

(2) Electrification in Kenya

(3) World Bank-supported projects

(4) UN report