Interview to Julio Eisman
“Thanks to renewable energy and what surrounds them, the access to affordable, safe, sustainable and modern energy for all can be guaranteed”
We go on with our 2020 editorial line about climate challenges. This time, we deal with an economic challenge: energy for the development, without encumbering poorer economies. So, we have talked to the engineer Julio Eisman, specialist in electrical energy access in the sector of development cooperation.
What does the energy sector of emerging countries have in common?
The energy sector of each emerging country has its own characteristics depending on the availability of resources, history, political and socioeconomic factors, etc. But there are some shared general characteristics related to the universal access to energy.
Firstly, often public distributors have serious economic problems. That is to say, the revenue obtained from the sale of energy does not cover their expenses. This situation makes it difficult to extend their services, as it would imply losing more money, and discourage them to have a client service approach. So, distribution companies have bad reputation. It is a vicious circle; some countries have been able to overcome thanks to profound structural reforms.
Secondly, in most cases, governments are incompetent to deal with the problem of universal access to energy in an efficient way. They must reach consensus to face the problem in the long-term and from different areas and have leadership to mobilise and articulate contributions from different spheres.
And, finally, another fact is that the availability of energy resources in a country does not imply a greater access to energy.
“Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all” is one of the United Nation Sustainable Development Goals. How can this target be achieved in such different countries with different levels of infrastructure, resources, and institutional capacity?
The compliance of the 2030 agenda affects us all, specially the 193 countries that endorsed it. So, the political commitment is real.
Image 1 – UN Sustainable Development Goals
It is true there is no global solution that could be applied to every country to guarantee the compliance with the goal SDG7. The determining factors of each country make us look for adapted solutions. In fact, there is no possible solution without this contextualization to each specific environment.
However, there is also principles, methodologies and good practices that experience has validated and that can be globally applied.
One of these principles is that, to supply sustainable and affordable energy to underprivilege populations, subsidies must cover the difference between what final users can afford without getting poorer and the expenses of an efficient electrical service supplier. Subsidies are always a controversial issue, especially when they support population with less resources. However, they are basic to leave nobody behind, when dealing with settlements where poverty comes together with the high cost of the service due to a difficult access, isolation, or lack of other basic services. On the other hand, nowadays, most of the governments have the technology and the information to direct subsidies to people who really need them.
States play an important role and some of their tasks are irreplaceable. That is why political support is basic in all levels.
Supply models are stronger when the service supplier and the users participate and interact actively.
The good news is that the technological evolution of these years helped the deployment of off-grid electrical systems.
Could public-private cooperation help to achieve the goal?
The universal access to electricity is a complex issue that requires the coordination of different kind of organizations: companies, educational institutions, public administrations, and users. They share responsibility but also have different tasks. The key to success is that each player must comply with its role, under the general coordination of the State.
Public administrations must establish a political, legislative, and regulatory framework to make the universal access easier. They must establish a comprehensive planning considering how to achieve the electrification (more distribution grids, microgrids or off-grid systems) in an optimal way to meet the demand of each supply point. They must also lead and coordinate everyone’s effort.
Private companies should invest and implement innovative, dynamic, and efficient supply models based on advanced technology.
Educational institutions and research centres should develop technology and management models to resolve the access to energy with a minimum cost, especially for underprivilege communities.
Users, the ones who really know their environment and needs, should participate and share their needs, know the proposed solutions, propose alternative solutions and identify mistakes.
This collaboration is not easy, but it is the only way to face complex problems such as the universal, sustainable, and affordable access to energy.
Could renewable energy development be a driver of a country’s growth?
Renewable energy can help in two ways: supplying the electrical system of a cheaper and less pollutant energy source and providing energy access to those places where there is no efficient electrical grid. The access to energy helps life conditions and contributes to the personal growth and development of users. But it also helps the economic growth of countries as it makes the integration of productive processes easier.
The technological development and the decrease of costs of some renewable energies such as solar photovoltaics, allows to supply clean and sustainable energy to faraway places. From the deep of the Amazonian rain forest to refugees.
Image 2 – Opening of Light at Home Centre at Oaxaca, Peru
Energy storage systems have evolved and reduced their cost, their size and weight. The development of pre-payment platforms (PAYG) allow users to pay for a service that is automatically disconnected if unpaid. There are also ultra-efficient devices such as 100 lumens per watt led lights or 15’’ and 9-watt TVs. The development of management systems allows to control clients and equipment in detail. Thanks to these advances, new efficient and effective supply models have been designed and implemented to get universal access.
It can be said that thanks to renewable energy and what surrounds them, the access to affordable, safe, sustainable and modern energy for all can be guaranteed.
How does access to electricity affect population welfare?
Many reports state the strong correlation between the Human Development Index (HDI) and the energy consumption:
Imagen 3 – Human Development Index and primary energy use per capita in 2012
Speaking about poverty, we must think about a multi-dimensional poverty: not only economic poverty but also the lack of other basic services such as health, education, water and plumbing. Access to electricity is necessary and essential to get out of poverty, but it is not enough. The fight against poverty and development policies must take into account the access to other basic services, not only electricity.
Just the impact of the access to energy is also important to other Sustainable Development Goals such as economic (SDG1), health (SDG3), education (SDG4), genre equality (SDG5), climate action (SDG13). The compliance with SDG7 makes the other 16 SDG of the 2030 Agenda easier to comply.