Life without modern energy

Wood, farming waste and animal dung remain the primary energy source for the cooking and heating needs of 40% of the global population. More than 95% of these people are either in sub-Saharan African or developing Asia, and 84% live in rural areas. More than half of them also live without electricity.

Every activity they undertake requires manual labour that is physically demanding and time-consuming. They have little opportunity to participate in productive, paid labour that can lift them out of severe financial poverty.

2.7 billion people subsist in acute energy poverty, with no access to modern energy services.

Defining acute

One definition proposes that acute energy poverty exists if, per person annually, a household does not have access to:

• the equivalent of 35 kg of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) for cooking in the form of modern fuels or improved supply of solid fuel sources, and improved (efficient and clean) cook stoves; and

• 120 kWh of electricity for lighting and access to basic services such as drinking water, health, education, communications, etc. In reality, this is barely enough to power one 100-watt light bulb per person for three hours a day.


Acute energy poverty is widespread in remote areas that lie beyond the reach of electricity grids. The lure of a more modern life often drives migration to bigger cities, where thousands end up living in energy-less slums – sometimes directly below power lines that serve industry and wealthier populations.

Personal impacts

Poor health, particularly among women and children who spend long hours collecting biomass (physical strain) or cooking over polluting stoves (respiratory problems).

Economic stagnation stemming from lack of ability to advance from manual to motorized labour or inability to access markets for products and services.

Social poverty reflecting low access to health, education and other social services that support overall well-being and community development.

Underlying dysfunctions

Inadequate electricity grids that do not reach remote areas or malfunction when energy demand peaks.

Lack of appropriate off-grid energy solutions that can be managed and maintained by local users.

Ineffective energy policy and/or planning at the national level, which has negative impacts on investment by energy sector players and financial institutions.

Taking action

Conventional models to deliver household electricity by expanding large-scale power plants and extending electricity grids require massive investment and take many years to build. Moreover, standard transmission and distribution systems deliver far more energy than is needed by many traditional communities.

Small-scale solar, wind and hydro energy solutions are easier and quicker to install, and have the added bonus that locals can be trained as system operators, technicians and business managers. Improved cook stoves and biogas options can draw more energy out of biomass sources.

Key factors to consider in addressing acute energy poverty include:

Actual energy needs of the community, which are dramatically different in remote villages than in urban slums and communities springing up on the edge of mega-cities.

Energy beyond electricity for lighting to support access to water, sanitation, education, health services, and transportation of people and goods.

Effective business models to ensure that access is affordable to the community and that local energy systems remain viable (if necessary, providing an adequate return to initial investors).


EnGage now

EnAct seeks additional input from individuals and organizations working in the area of inadequate energy supply. Please help us – and others – better understand the scope and scale of this particular challenge by adding statistics, examples of personal impacts or underlying dysfunctions, or information related to solutions.


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