Grasping the scale of the energy gap
In 2020, 13% of people (940 mln globally) had no access to electricity; 40% (3 bln) lacked clean fuels for cooking and heating.1 Across Europe, an estimated 50 to 100 mln could not afford to heat or cool their homes.
Fast forward just two years and, despite massive efforts, all those figures are rising sharply. In 2019, targeted action had brought the number of people living in extreme poverty (i.e. earning no more than USD 1.90 per day) ‘down’ to 650 mln (from a high of 1.9 bln in 1990). But the economic plunge triggered by COVID-19 left this segment of society – which subsists in remote and informal communities – with little or no government support. By 2020, an additional 140 mln people had been thrown back into extreme poverty or fallen into it for the first time.
In 2022, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sent electricity and gas prices spiking around the world, with particularly acute effects in Europe. On average across 19 EU countries, household consumer prices increased by 40% in just six months. In the United Kingdom, they soared by 80%.1 With winter on the horizon, the worst is yet to come.
Such numbers are vital to funding and policy decisions. Yet EnAct sees a multi-layered challenge. At a fundamental level, statistics fail to capture how lack of access to energy brings drudgery to daily life and ill-health over the long term, in vastly different ways in different contexts. In turn, contextual nuances require tailored approaches for rolling out solutions. Critically, there isn’t ‘one’ energy gap: moving women up the clean cooking ladder is a different challenge than electrifying homes, schools or hospitals. Neither has anything to do with improving the energy efficiency of old homes in cold climates.
Recently, the concept of ‘transport energy poverty’ is gaining traction. But here again, the problem of spoilage because a small-hold farmer in rural India cannot afford to get produce to market has nothing in common with an elderly person who cannot get to medical appointments since budget cuts reduced or eliminated public transport between small towns and urban centres.
Balancing reporting across the causes and impacts of energy poverty with investigation of the cross-disciplinary collaboration needed to trigger systemic change is core to the work of EnAct. Two existing platforms demonstrate the model; other themes reflect areas we are keen to cover.
EnAct’s pilot project, COLD@HOME features reporting from across the EU and North America, investigating the harsh reality that more and more people are unable to afford sufficient energy services in climates that straddle bitterly cold winters and increasingly hot summers.
In addition to exploring how the combination of poor-quality housing, low incomes and high energy costs affects individual families, it makes the case that underconsumption of energy leads to illnesses and excess seasonal deaths that carry high costs for national health services.
Solutions reporting highlights technical, policy, financing and civic/social interventions that have been proven effective and warrant adaption and scaling up to other contexts.