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What is Energy Poverty?

In 2010, the World Economic Forum defined energy poverty as the lack of access to sustainable modern energy services and products. For example, lack of access to electricity for many people means having no light at night, no fan for cooling, no refrigeration for food and no means of powering tools or devices, such as cellphones, computers or tools for constructing things. Lack of access to safe, affordable and reliable energy is considered one of the greatest impediments to human, social and economic development and the achievement of many of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Access to electricity improves lives and boosts food security. For example, it improves school-age children’s ability to study at night, and it provides lighting, electricity to power heating, cooling, cooking, mechanical power and telecommunications, all of which are essential components to economic development.

Energy poverty in developing countries

Energy poverty is most acute in developing countries where governments can’t afford to build costly infrastructure for energy transmission outside major urban areas. African countries represent the majority of the least-electrified regions. As little as 7-10 percent of the population in countries such as Chad and South Sudan have access to electricity.

Electricity is essential for economic development, so people living without access to adequate electricity are likely to remain in poverty. The recent rising prices for food and fuel disproportionately hurt people in the developing world, and these are the same people less equipped to handle with the impacts. Often, these are many of the same people most affected by the impacts of climate change further supporting the imbalance in climate justice.

Energy poverty statistics

  • According to the International Energy Association (IEA), 775 million people (over 10%) around the world lack access to electricity.

  • Hundreds of millions more live without reliable or affordable energy.

  • 3 billion people do not have access to clean fuels for cooking (

  • Poorer households are more likely to lack access to energy in any country.

  • In sub-Saharan Africa, an estimated 57% of the population lives without electricity, contrasted to Asia where an estimated 9% of the population lacks access.

The impact of energy poverty

Energy poverty can threaten people’s lives. Without electricity, doctors and nurses in Africa often perform medical procedures, including delivering babies, without adequate lighting.

Energy poverty also means people have to spend much of their day sometimes walking long distances to get fuel or to charge their phones. It means people often live with extreme heat without as much as a fan to cool themselves. People living without access to electricity often use dangerous sources of fuel, such as kerosene, for lighting and cooking which also increases health risks.

Even in more developed regions, energy poverty often means too cold or too hot indoor temperatures, greater indoor air pollution, inadequate lighting, increased health risks, and fewer educational opportunities.

Energy poverty and education

Lower energy poverty is directly associated with higher education outcomes. A school that has lighting, heating and/or cooling and a way to charge and power education learning tools, such as laptops and tablets, can provide better education. Energy can mean access to the internet for expanded learning. Energy also means students can study longer and under better conditions.

In many regions, families without access to electricity rely on their children to collect sources of fuel for heating and cooking which means children aren’t in school learning.

Energy poverty and health

There are numerous health implications to energy poverty. As mentioned above, in energy poor regions, medical staff often must perform medical procedures without adequate lighting and/or power to operate medical devices. And energy is critical for refrigerating many drugs and vaccines.

In many places, energy is also critical for the pumping and filtration of water—water filtration being an important way to lower the risk of water-borne diseases.

Many families living in energy poor regions burn kerosene for lighting and biomass for heating and cooking. This biomass is usually comprised of animal waste (dung), raw coal or wood—all of which have been linked to respiratory issues--including respiratory infections and premature death primarily affecting women and children since they typically spend the most time in the family dwelling.

Sustainable solution to energy poverty

Sustainable energy solutions, like solar and energy storage systems, are an excellent way to combat energy poverty.

Solar energy systems

Solar energy systems are a low-maintenance and cost-effective way to combat energy poverty. Many communities experiencing energy poverty are found in sparsely populated regions of less developed countries where it might take several decades before their governments extend electrical grid services to them. In other communities, such as many neighborhoods in Puerto Rico, they have access to the electrical grid, but the cost of energy is often unaffordable and the service unreliable. Whether it’s a solar energy system to provide back-up power for communities with unreliable grid service, or solar energy for a community without any access to power, sustainable solutions like solar energy systems dramatically improve lives by improving education, sanitation, irrigation, communication and economic development.

How EBL is combatting energy poverty

Empowered by Light’s work focuses on providing energy access and empowering people using solar energy technologies. EBL specifically focuses on communities on the frontlines of climate change, loss of wildlife and environmental devastation.

EBL has completed over 60 projects to help combat energy poverty. For example, the solar and energy storage systems we’ve installed in remote communities in Africa are empowering women’s groups to more successfully grow crops to feed their families, their communities and generate income. The systems EBL has installed in Native American communities are offsetting the high cost of electricity for community-use facilities in low-income areas. The systems EBL has installed in Puerto Rico are ensuring disadvantaged communities have reliable access to electricity since their power grid is so unstable.

How you can help combat energy poverty

Your support of EBL will help to combat energy poverty by allowing solar energy projects to be completed. Make a donation today to support our work and create a positive impact worldwide!


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