Impoverished communities around the globe lack access to essential amenities including heat, electricity and clean drinking water. Residents of rural communities are also in a similar situation. Electric companies have little incentive to add additional infrastructure to the electrical grid to provide these areas with electricity since it isn’t economical. Instead, residents are forced to use kerosene, diesel, candles and other antiquated technologies to meet their needs. Fortunately, renewable energy technologies can help.
Cost savings over time
Poverty and electricity are a negative cycle. Poor people are less likely to be able to afford access to electricity, and a lack of electricity is more likely to keep them from moving out of poverty. Residents in rural and impoverished communities can expect to pay up to five times the cost per kilowatt hour for electricity compared to more developed areas, and their access to electricity is spotty at best. Energy efficient systems offer a solution to this issue.
Efficient energy systems reduce the amount of energy needed to operate a system which means excess energy can then be used somewhere else. A relevant measure of electricity is looking at a cost comparison. Geothermal energy, for example, costs approximately 80 percent less than traditional fossil fuel sources while solar energy prices are rivaling if not falling below fossil fuel prices.
Over time, renewables can save a significant amount of money on electricity expenses. However, the initial installation cost is beyond what most poor people can afford to pay. Solar power, geothermal and wind power infrastructure requires users pay upfront energy costs equivalent to ten years-worth of power. Typically, people living in poverty don’t have this kind of extra money to invest.
Localized energy resources
Renewable energy such as geothermal, solar and wind power allow communities to use natural resources to produce green, clean energy on location. This bypasses the community’s need tie into the main electric grid and gives them energy independence. In the event of a natural disaster or significant storm situation, they will have access to electricity sooner as they won’t need to wait for cabling and large-scale infrastructure repairs.
Communities located near geothermal features are especially well suited to take advantage of renewable geothermal energy. Underground, the temperature remains nearly constant year-round. Geothermal heating systems have water-filled pipes that run into the ground.
The pipes naturally heat or cool to the earth’s temperature before returning to the ground surface, which in turn regulates the temperature of a home or business. Geothermal units can also direct hot water to a water heater, which virtually eliminates the costs of heating water conventionally, which in turn reduces energy costs.
Reallocating energy subsidies
Across the globe, countries spent a combined $550 billion in subsidies for fossil fuels in 2013 alone. Subsidies for fossil fuel promote the usage of dirty energy sources and benefit those with regular access to fossil fuels, such as the wealthy and those living in more developed areas.
Reallocating this funding to create renewable energy infrastructure in impoverished areas will increase access to regular electricity and improve the resident’s quality of life. Subsidies that offset the initial installation costs of renewable technologies can help economically disadvantage communities move forward.
Improved air quality
Traditional energy sources in rural and poverty-stricken communities include diesel-run generators and kerosene lamps. These sources generate high volumes of pollutants which create poor air quality in homes and neighborhoods, which can lead to respiratory ailments and early deaths. Renewables offer an eco-friendly alternative.
Solar, geothermal and wind energy produce a fraction of the emissions of fossil fuels and kerosene. Improved air quality can reduce instances of cancer and other diseases related to breathing harmful pollutants.
Poor communities across the globe can benefit from the lower cost and emissions of renewable energy as it offers a more sustainable and accessible alternative to traditional fossil fuels.
Featured image credit: Black Rock Solar, courtesy Flickr