This week Practical Action published the third part of The Poor People’s Energy Outlook. The first report looked at household energy, the second at energy for business. This third chapter looks at energy for public services.
Together, those three different aspects of energy use add up to what Practical Action call ‘total energy access’ – energy to run a home, to run a business, and to run community facilities. They’re all important, but the third one comes into its own when you consider that it covers schools, police stations and hospitals.
Imagine trying to keep a hospital running without a reliable energy supply. You couldn’t refrigerate vaccines or medicines. You would struggle to sterilise equipment, light operating theatres or run diagnostic equipment such as x-ray machines, centrifuges or ultrasound. Services would have to end at sundown, with doctors doing their late rounds with torches or lanterns.
Despite the difficulties of running healthcare without electricity, that’s exactly what one billion people depend on. 46% of India’s health facilities, serving 580 million people, have no electricity. 30% of Africa’s health facilities do without power.
It’s not a matter of life and death, but a 21st century education needs electricity too. I can speak from personal experience here. My primary school education was at a local Malagasy school. There was no glass in the windows, so when it rained we had to close the shutters. It was then too dark to do any work. There was usually electric light, but it was one dim bulb for the whole classroom. In the big storms the power would often go out entirely, and the teacher would tell us stories in the dark until it was time to go home.
That was in the 80s, and we did okay with our limited lighting. An education with unreliable or non-existent power would actually be a bigger disadvantage now, because you wouldn’t be able to use computers. In our modern world, schools need to be able to use IT, for learning and finding information online, but also for keeping records and preparing lessons and handouts. (We had an old duplicator for handouts in Madagascar)
There are multiple ways to provide power for community services. Sometimes it’s a matter of grid extension. In more remote areas, clinics and schools needs to be self-sufficient. The best way to provide stable power is often a hybrid system of solar with batteries and a diesel generator for backup, but there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Practical Action’s aim with the Poor People’s Energy Outlook is not to plan in any detail how energy access can be delivered, but to raise awareness of the benefits of energy for all, and to campaign for energy access to be seen as an integral part of development. On that front, their three reports make a compelling case, and are a real reminder of just how privileged we are to live in places where we can take our energy for granted.