Energy access to rural communities – a key climate solution

Naomi Kioi


Living in this modern age, it’s easy to forget the millions of people who still depend on wood, charcoal and kerosene to cook meals, boil water and light up their homes. Not only are these fuels expensive, but they also have negative effects on people’s health and are also grossly detrimental to the environment.

This is why a clean energy transition is of the utmost importance, a discussion that should be prioritised and brought to the forefront.

What do we mean by clean energy transition? Simply put, it is the global energy sector’s shift from fossil-based energy production and consumption – including oil, natural gas and coal – to renewable energy sources like solar energy. Essentially, we need to move from harmful energy sources to natural resources.

Why do we need conversations around transition to clean energy?

In order for a clean energy transition to happen, we need communities working towards making this a reality. It is, therefore, necessary to involve local policy makers to aid in reforming the energy sector in support of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 7 (SDG 7) – Affordable and Clean Energy. All this needs to be done within the 2030 stipulated time frame keeping in mind it’s seven years away.

As we await the right policies to fall in place, we need to increase efforts to bring the beneficiaries – the rural population – into the conversation. Making an effort to seek out their voices and let them have a say in this transition will get the ball rolling much faster. Locally, recognition awards like the Rural Women Energy Awards which aims to recognise innovative capabilities are great conversation drivers showcasing people’s ability to adapt to efficient energy sources when given the right support. On a global scale, events like the Sustainable Energy for All Forum and Reuters Global Energy Transition brings together governments, CEOs, civil societies and changemakers to share knowledge, discuss progress, showcase success and identify solutions to achieve faster and wider gains towards sustainable energy for all. This shows that meeting the SDG 7 goals requires both local and global stakeholder involvement. By giving everyone a seat at the clean energy transition table, they will feel empowered and take initiative to aid in the achievement of these goals.

Creating processes that work

The question now is where do we begin and how do we keep it going for the long run? The good news is we have already begun. Companies like Sun King have been at the forefront of the clean energy transition for the past 12 years with millions of rural families having successfully transitioned to solar energy. When done right, the transition also uplifts the economy of the community. Many of the commission-based sales agents selling clean energy products, gain revenue and other value added benefits creating a micro-economy based on clean energy raising their living standards as well as their communities.

While all this sounds hopeful, it is yet to happen at the scale needed to meet the intended timelines. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), by 2020, 2.4 billion people were still cooking primarily with polluting fuels and technologies, such as charcoal, coal, crop waste, dung, kerosene, and wood. In Sub-Saharan Africa, more than 93 per cent of the rural population still lack access to clean cooking fuels and technologies, compared with 71 per cent of the population living in urban areas (IRENA, 2022). This shows the need for collaboration between different stakeholders to encourage the growth of the clean energy sector worldwide.

Collaborating for clean energy adoption

There is an African saying that states, ‘if you want to walk fast, walk alone, if you want to walk far, walk together’. Clean energy adoption is a long journey which means we have to work together to achieve its long-term goals. For this to happen, we need to embrace partnerships that help empower rural communities and detach them from their dependency on fossil fuels. These partnerships include financial and telcom institutions that provide capital and technology to make payments easier for the customers. They also involve governments and international development institutions involved in the clean energy sector i.e., the UN, World Bank, IRENA, SE4ALL among many others. We also cannot forget the rural communities that are central to the work done by these organisations. This is a universal project that cannot work unless all the stakeholders are moving in the same direction. Clean energy adoption is a unifying factor that calls for all of us to work together for the good of the human race.

Fast forwarding adoption to clean energy

After collaborations, next would be finding ways to ensure we are on the fast-track to a net zero world. The UN has a few suggestions that we can use such as tripling the investments in renewable energy. Currently, at least $4 trillion a year is needed until 2030 to achieve net zero by 2050. Subsequently, is the need to shift focus from fossil fuels subsidies to renewable energy. This will help drive sustainable economic growth through job creation and better public health, especially for rural communities. Another way is to create clear policies and transparent processes. Lastly, we need to make renewable energy accessible to all. This includes essential technologies such as battery storage systems that harness renewable energy and allow energy to be released when needed.

Granted that all these suggestions are slowly being taken up, there is no denying that the timeline is in a constant state of flux. There are many reasons behind this and the main one is that we cannot control the state of the world as we recently saw with the covid pandemic. In the end, despite our achievements so far, we should occasionally pause and ask ourselves, are our net zero ambitions really achievable or are they an illusion?

The views expressed in this article are the contributor’s own and do not necessarily reflect BII’s investment policy or the policy of the UK government.