How the shift to renewable energy is throwing scores into energy poverty

The shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources is at the cost of energy equality.

 |  3-minute read |   16-07-2019
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While switching to renewable energy sources from fossil fuels has been actively promoted as a big step towards mitigating climate change and reducing carbon emissions, it comes at the cost of increased energy inequality.

This has been established in a study that was published in the journal Energy Research & Social Science. The study of 175 nations from 1990 to 2014 supports past claims by researchers who argue that renewable energy consumption may be indirectly driving energy poverty.

main_renewable-energ_071519034104.jpgWhile the shift to renewable energy is laudable, it must be at the cost of providing energy equality for all. (Photo: Reuters)

Interestingly, it says that renewable energy consumption reduces emissions to a lesser degree when occurring in the context of decreasing inequality.

To explain this, in poorer nations, renewable sources of electricity have been used to alleviate energy poverty. Energy poverty is when a household has no, or inadequate, access to energy services such as heating, cooling, lighting, and use of appliances. Energy poverty is owing to a combination of factors including low income, increasing utility rates, and inefficient buildings and appliances. In 2015, a World Bank report found that around one in seven people across the globe live without electricity and nearly three billion cook using polluting fuels, highlighting the wide gap in energy inequality and energy poverty. The situation has not improved much since. 

main1_energy-poverty_071519032951.jpgWorld Bank report had said that one in seven people still live without electricity, implying that there is vast energy poverty. (Photo: Reuters)

“In rural areas in Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, a solar farm can give the agrarian community access to electricity that historically never had access to energy. However, that's not having any impact on carbon dioxide emissions because those rural communities never used fossil fuels in the first place," Julius McGee, assistant professor of sociology in PSU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the author of the study, said in a statement published in Science Daily.

In developed nations, like the United States, for instance, fossil fuel energy is substituted for renewable energy as a way to reduce carbon emissions. With the shift to renewable energy, there are incentives such as tax subsidies to reduce energy costs for homeowners who can afford to install solar panels or energy-efficient appliances. However, it also serves to drive up the prices of fossil fuel energy as utility companies seek to recapture losses. That means increased utility bills for the rest of the customers, and for many low-income families, increased financial pressure, which creates energy poverty.

These efforts to mitigate environmental hazards come at the cost of increased inequality.

"People who are just making ends meet and can barely afford their energy bills will make a choice between food and their energy. We don't think of energy as a human right when it actually is. The things that consume the most energy in your household — heating, cooling, refrigeration — are the things you absolutely need,” McGee said in his statement to Science Daily.

While the efforts made to mitigate environmental hazards and climate change must be lauded, it should come as an effort accessible to all. Efforts should be to promote equality and not increase the gap in energy poverty.

Also read: Why India should be worried about 'energy democracy'

Writer

Rajeshwari Ganesan Rajeshwari Ganesan @rajeshwaridotg

Assistant Editor, DailyO

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