Modern Energy Access

Florence Adewale
December 10, 2016

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2016

Modern Energy

Fig. 1: A woman cooking over an indoor flame. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

One billion people still live without electricity and access to clean water. [1]

There are benefits in that the developing world can leap frog some of the less sustainable energy and electricity generation technologies, but some of the more advanced and expensive systems are simply not affordable. Coal unfortunately is affordable. The developed world used coal to industrialize and develop and is responsible for most of the global warming to date. It is unjust to condemn the poorest countries in the world to desire the same level of development and access. Access to reliable energy is a social justice issue. Thinking through ways to provide modern energy to the developing world is crucial. Modern energy is defined as reliable access to electricity and clean cooking facilities. Electricity provides the most efficient form of lighting which allows more work to be done when natural lighting is not available and for kids, it allows them to be able to study and read. Modern cooking can save so many lives because women do not have to travel for firewood everyday leaving them susceptible to rape and other crimes. Also, indoor pollution is a major cause of health issues in the developing world will be greatly reduced. There are millions of deaths per year attributed to indoor air pollution. [2] Fig. 1 shows a picture of a woman cooking indoors over a fire. Affordability is probably the major consideration for a lot of developing countries.

People are the Key

The developing world deserves access to modern energy. We are at a crucial time in which CO2 emissions must matter, but as much as the developed world wants the lights to come on and sees it as a right, the developing world deserves the same. To put a dent in this seemingly insurmountable issue of energy access, people who are energy poor must be at the center. [1] Far too often, projects go into developing areas without the buy-in of the people who will be using it and ultimately the product fails. There are storage houses of unused cook stoves and fields of abandoned play pumps. Millions of dollars were put towards the installing of play pumps in sub-Saharan Africa in the early 2000s. The idea behind the play pumps is that it would harness the energy of children playing to pump water for rural villages. It took less than two years to see that the vision behind the project would not come to fruition. The pumps were rusting and kids were not actually that interested in playing on them. [3] The lists of projects that end in catastrophic failures go on and on from education to micro-finance and agriculture. Before projects are started, people must be understood. Clean cooking is so crucial and very solvable yet the lack of designing with the user at the center has led to so cook stove catastrophes. It doesn't end in just understanding the people and their context, but also involving the people.

© Florence Adewale. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] Poor People's Energy Outlook 2016 (Practical Action Publishing, 2016).

[2] A. Prüss-Ustün et al., Preventing Disease Through Healthy Environments: A Global Assessment of the Burden of Disease from Environmental Risks, 2nd Ed. (World Health Organization, 2016).

[3] M. Hobbes, "Stop Trying to Save the World," New Republic, 17 Nov 14.