Renewable Energy Challenge: 900 Million Without Access to Electricity

900 Million Without Access to Electricity
By Valentin Uzunov

A major challenge for any country is how to meet their energy demands as the population grows. It may be hard to imagine, but in the 1960' only a third of the world population lived in an urban environment (1 billion). By 2016 the urban population has risen by 3 billion comprising over half (54%) of the total world population [1]. One major cause for the trend in urbanization is the reciprocal relationship between growth and electricity and their influences on driving economic growth and prosperity. It's much easier to supply a large number of people with electricity when it doesn't have to travel far (relatively speaking). Thus unfortunately as a countries population grows, it becomes prohibitively more unaffordable to supply small, dispersed communities with electricity driving in the increase in urbanization seen across the globe.

Until recently, developed countries like the US, China, India, Russia, United Kingdom have relied primarily on fossil fuels to meet their energy demands.This practice has now been strongly attributed to the cause of global climate change we are currently observing [2]. A result attributed to, the rapidly rising levels of carbon dioxide emissions and other greenhouse gasses from burning fossil fuels, beginning around the time of rapid industrialization across the globe around the 1960s (Figure 1) [1]. In order to stymie the rate of global climate change, and take accountability. All developed countries, apart from the USA at the moment, have entered into an agreement (The Paris Agreement) to reduce their carbon dioxide in hopes of keeping global average temperatures from increasing beyond an eminent 1.5 °C and halt below 2 °C by 2025 [2]. For this to happen these countries will have to phase out fossil fuel industries and factories and replace the energy output with renewable energy sources like wind, solar, hydro, biofuels, etc.

Figure 1. Fossil fuel energy consumption worldwide as a percentage of the total. Notice the steady increase around the globe and in smaller countries
In 2014 the global population was approximately 7.269 billion, with over 50% living in a developed country like China, India, US, Japan, Germany, Russia, and so on [1]. Now consider that just under half (46%) of the world population still lives in rural areas, and now contemplate that over a quarter (27%) of those people do not have access to electricity. That is over 900 million people worldwide are without access to electricity [1,3,4].
There is no universally agreed upon definition for a developed or undeveloped country. Different global bodies use different definitions that best speak to their agenda. For example, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) bases their definition on economic factors alone, like the gross domestic product per capita of a country [3]. Others, like the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), use a more holistic working definition based on the Humans Development Index of a country which was developed for the UNDP [4]. Others, like the World Bank (WB), have decided to drop the term altogether in recent years [1]. According to IMF from a total of 195 countries, 156 are classified as "emerging market and developing economies" (developing), while by UNDP criteria only 76 countries are. Thus, it stands to reason that somewhere between eighty and thirty-nine percent of countries on the planet can be considered developing in some respect or other. IMF criteria for a developing country does not take into account quality of life as a factor, which is undoubtedly important, it does likely reflect more accurately each country's economic potential and capacity to adopt and implement new sustainable energy methods and technologies on large scales.

Consider the Philippines, considered a developing country in general, made up of 7,641 mountainous islands, of which some 2000 are inhabited. How do you connect everyone to a central electricity grid? [5]. The magnitude of the problem in a country like the Philippines alone can seems overwhelming, let alone, how to connect 900 million. However, since 2001, a Portland, Oregon, non-government organization called, Green Empowerment has been working on tackling this seemly hopeless challenge, and helping thousands with access to electricity.

Green Empowerment's model is uniquely focused on empowering rural communities with locally owned, sustainable solutions to energy, water, and sanitation. GE has projects in the Philippines, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Peru, Malaysian Boreo, and Myanmar/Burma. GE along with their local partners, help communities with little or no electricity to access, establish locally run and sustainable electricity. They accomplish this by providing training and technical expertise to locals, in harnessing and managing the untapped potential of sustainable resources available to the community. Utilizing small hydropower, biomass, biogas, wind and solar technologies that can be designed, built, and maintained locally.

Ponder for a moment, what would your life be like without access to electricity. While Truth is we can all help, starting with visiting the Green Empowerment website and learning more about their mission and the work they are doing and spreading the word and add follow them on social media. For those who are in a position to even further, consider donating, or volunteering. Join us PSU Ecomerge and help promote 'Green Empowerment'.


1.World Bank Data (2014).
2.USGCRP, 2017: Climate Science Special Report: Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume I [Wuebbles, D.J., D.W. Fahey, K.A. Hibbard, D.J. Dokken, B.C. Stewart, and T.K. Maycock (eds.)]. U.S. Global Change Research Program, Washington, DC, USA, 470 pp, doi: 10.7930/J0J964J6.
3  Internation Monatery Fund (2017).
4. United Nations Development Programme (2017).
5.Administrator Tiangco welcomes 2017". National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (NAMRIA). Retrieved 15 November 2017.