From eliminating diseases to gender equality, electricity is so much more than light
Imagine an average day in your life. You probably wake up with an alarm clock set on your smartphone, which you browse for a good 20 minutes before you leave the bed. You use the coffee machine for the first cup of the day, grab a quick bite to eat from the fridge and head to work. After spending the day on the computer, you realize it’s dark outside for a few hours. You have a beer with some friends at the local bar, go home, watch a couple of episodes of your favorite show, turn the lights off, and go to sleep.
Now, imagine that day without electricity. How will it change your habits and norms?
Since the invention of the light bulb in the 1870s, electricity has become as obvious as the sunrise for most of the world’s population. Every single activity depicted here, from the most basic to the more elaborate, involves a steady electrical current. Our day-to-day lives revolve around electricity, from the minute we wake up to when we turn off the lights and go to sleep.
1.2 billion people, 14% of the world’s population, do not, and have never had access to electricity. Concentrated mostly in Africa and South East Asia, entire communities lead entirely different lives. Countless researches have established an apparent connection between electricity consumption and human development; it became increasingly clear that this has to change.
In an effort to achieve a better and more sustainable future on a global scale, in 2015 The United Nations set 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), aiming to improve billions of lives by 2030. SDG #7 is “affordable and clean energy” for all, recognizing the essentialness of power in establishing global equality. The World Bank Group has identified stable access to electricity as the necessary infrastructure needed to achieve every other SDG, including diminishing poverty, no hunger, and gender equality.
So how will power change the lives of over a billion people? When you think about electricity suddenly becoming available, some obvious changes and apparent come to mind. But what are the more in-depth, broader effects that will come with power?
Affordable power would lower household energy costs
Today, unconnected households use various sources of energy for lighting, cooking, charging and more. Electricity replacing kerosene and batteries reduces energy expenditures by around 2.50$ a month, which can be 4% of a monthly income in Sub-Saharan Africa.
A boost for the business sector
With the ability to open after dark and refrigerate food and drinks, restaurants and bars would open, providing employment for locals, potentially attracting more tourists and visitors, and generating more income.
People will have access to knowledge (power is knowledge, and knowledge is power)
Electricity provides a pathway to knowledge, allowing for the consumption of everything from education to local and global news. With a very high penetration rate of mobile phones and smartphones around the continent, stable access to electricity allows for internet connection and charged devices. Having access to information and data puts the power in the people’s hands, as they can discover practical ways to solve everyday problems, learn various professions and skills and open themselves up to endless possibilities.
Elimination of indoor pollution would save millions of lives every year
With no access to power, people use biomass fuels, coal and dung to cook, and they often do it inside their homes and huts. Research shows an unmediated connection between the use of biomass to millions of deaths a year, caused by cancer, respiratory failure, and suffocation. access to electricity will provide households with more accessible, safer ways of cooking, and the use of biomass will eventually be eradicated.
The road to gender equality would be a bit shorter
In many African countries, women are traditionally responsible for the household including the preparation of food and the collecting of water and firewood. These activities may take hours every day, not leaving any time for proper education or individual development. Girls are often obliged to help their mothers with house chores, thus prevented from attending school, creating an education gender gap which can be demonstrated by illiteracy rates that are much higher among African women than men. Having electricity access will cut the time spent on house chores drastically, allowing women to focus on their personal development and girls to attend school. A lot has to change to reach equality, but this could be a great start.
This is only the tip of the iceberg of the impact that electrification could have on Africa. The ability to light up the house or the street after dark, to refrigerate food and medical supplies and to cook without biomass will surely have immediate effects: as for what the future holds, the sky is the limit.