Welcome to lecture eight, chapter two, where I want to talk about life in an economy without modern energy services. I want to do this to make it absolutely clear that for poor places in the world, our most important mission and goal is to increase access to modern energy.
Sometimes people say, oh who needs electricity? Who needs all of these frills of modern life? But it’s nothing like this. The life in places without access to electricity and other modern energy services are not the kind of life that people want or deserve in the 21st Century. I think about this often because I have the chance to visit and work in many very poor parts of the world and especially in very poor villages in rural Africa. And I have seen and I feel the burdens that come from that, especially when I fly home to Manhattan to an affluent neighborhood near Columbia University and I experience in daily life the benefits and conveniences that seem so remote in some of the poorest parts of the world. I’m almost, feel compelled to think about this almost every day when I get my breakfast. I get a bowl of cereal and I cut some fruit into it. Fruit from a refrigerator which has kept the fruit fresh and safe. I stick it in the microwave. Press a button and within a couple minutes, I have my breakfast. Truth be told, I press another button and there is a cup of coffee and of course that’s a super convenience, but when I think about it, in five minutes
I’ve accomplished what may take a woman, a mother in sub-Saharan Africa four or five hours of arduous labor to accomplish. A woman may start her day often walking many kilometers, carrying an incredibly heavy burden of fuel wood, which she has collected on her own. And I’ve tried lifting these, I can’t do it. And the burdens that this woman and millions like her start the day with are startling. And there is the walk maybe two or three or four times a day to get water in a jerry can or in a, you know bucket like this, carrying ten or fifteen kilograms of water on the woman’s head. Baby at the side, often a one-hour or two-hour walk to a water hole or to a water point. And often a wait of half an hour or an hour to get that water. And then the cooking starts. It’s not the press of the microwave button. It’s cooking over a three-stone stove. Arduous work. But also very dangerous. Look at the smoke in, in these two pictures of women using traditional cookstoves in, in Africa. That smoke we know from epidemiological studies claims more than a million lives a year of young children. It creates lung disease, infection and death of children from respiratory causes. Of course it impairs a mother who cooks every day under these conditions. And then after hours, the woman is out in the field. There’s no machinery there. There is no tractor. She has her hand hoe and she is perhaps weeding, bent over, hunched over. Again, I’ve tried it and one day is exhausting. I have to say, this is a woman’s life every day and it’s not a matter of an option for her to feed her household, for her to ensure some minimum level of food security for her children and for her family is arduous, hours a day.
It will be broken perhaps by another walk to the water hole, by collecting fuel wood late in the afternoon, by cooking again, late in the evening. Or perhaps by a long walk carrying a child to a clinic, if there is a clinic. This is a makeshift clinic of Medicins Sans Frontieres, of the famous NGO MSF, which provides emergency medical services in places that otherwise wouldn’t have it at all. But in places that I have been working over the past 15 years, mothers often carry a child, febrile in their arms, ten kilometers to a clinic.
That clinic when she arrives doesn’t have electricity, can’t run some most basic laboratory or diagnostic equipment because of, of the lack of electricity. Often there has been no cold chain maintained to preserve vaccines. And a child’s life of course is repeatedly imperiled and that’s why millions of children in, in such poor places die before their fifth birthday of causes that are 100% preventable at almost no cost. Think of the role of energy in all of this. No transport, no access to basic lab services or to being able to provide the medicines and this is what life is like when one doesn’t have electricity.
Then comes end of the day and perhaps the child’s able to read and do a little bit of homework in the dark with a kerosene light. It’s not only expensive but dangerous for fires inside the household. The quality of lighting on the eyes is, is not good, the fumes of course are also very debilitating. This is a day without modern energy services. And it’s a day of profound hardship, a day of risk, a day when a mosquito bite can cause an end of a child’s life because of lack of transport or lack of access to life-saving health services.
When a bite of food can also be life-threatening because there’s been no refrigeration, or proper care that could be taken to keep the food safe from various kinds of pathogens and disease.
This is what it means when one lives without modern energy services. That is the grim reality still for hundreds of millions of people.
But the extraordinarily positive side of the story is that advances of technology and finally some common sense and mobilization of the world around doing something about this can help people to break free of this energy poverty and by doing so, break free of the poverty trap more generally. F
or every one of the problems that I just described, there are low cost solutions. And what’s wonderful about them is that not only can these low cost solutions be made available to households, but if they are made available, they empower the households to be far more productive. Rather than spending hours a day in basic tasks, they enable mothers and fathers to focus their attention on important, highly productive work to earn higher incomes, to improve farm productivity, to help keep their children safer and in source and thereby to provide a major lever for ending poverty once and for all.
We know now through the creative design of many engineers during the past ten years much safer cookstoves.
It can be still woodburning cookstoves, but with much lower smoke, and therefore, much more household safety and much less need for wood. It can be this kind of LPG, liquefied petroleum gas cooking that you see here, which is clean burning and a lot more efficient for this woman depicted here.
Water can be pumped now at far lower cost and avoiding the hours that women across Africa now spend in fetching water or the children spend fetching water, rather than in being in school.
Water can be pumped through low cost solar powered pumps as depicted here. And these are being rapidly improved. A lot of them are being developed in India. And they are easily adapted to the African context .And the very low wattage illumination of LED bulbs and solar power with even a modest amount of battery storage is allowing for, for illumination through electricity rather than through kerosene. And the households greatly prefer this. Gentlemen like this reports to us in a village where we’re working that it has enabled him to increase his income tremendously. He can now work extra hours in the evening, productively in his tailoring activities and earn a lot of extra income and easily pay for the costs of the electricity services that he is now buying in, instead of the kerosene that he relied on before.
There is a lot of small equipment appropriate for smallholder farming, such as this two-wheel tractor. Again, adapted from India in a wonderful case of so-called South-South Technology Transfer, where technologies now are going to enable smallholder farmers in Africa to increase their yields, to cut back dramatically on the backbreaking labor and by doing so, to find their way out of poverty for the long term. I can’t help thinking about this every day. I hope that you will think about it as well. There are more than a billion people in the world that lack access to electricity. There are a billion people or more that lack access to safe cooking energy, cooking services of one form or another. And yet the solutions are at hand. And as I’ll describe in a later chapter of this lecture, there is now fortunately, not only the technology available but there is the growing political will and the realization that by ending energy poverty we can also help end income poverty once and for all.