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NUMERO 14 - 13/07/2016

 Governing the Energy market between universal access to Energy and sustainable development

The article Power to powerless published in The Economist on 27 February 2016 was focused on the daunting amount of the population without access to energy or at least to modern energy services. Moreover it emphasizes the new electricity systems that are emerging to bring light  to the world’s poorest. The biggest numbers are in rural southern Asia and in sub-Saharan Africa. Although, according to the UN, 220m people gained electricity between 2010 and 2012, most of them were in urban areas, particularly in India. So the key question is about what it would take to bring all people in rural areas into the modern world. All in all the answer could be to go “beyond the pylons” or, in other words, to supply “off-grid” power to poorer households in rural areas, individually or via neighbourhood “mini-grids”. Experiences and experiments using new technologies in the hope to vault the electricity grid can be best-suited to private customers in rural areas whose energy needs are low and who cannot afford the costs to connect to grids. Moreover, when electrification replaces fires and wood stoves, it improves air quality. “Green projects”  contribute to the battle against climate change as even the poorest countries are increasingly aware of the risks of pollution. Public debates over energy policy are more and more dominated by the spectre of climate change. In this perspective the potential conflict between universal access to energy and the environmental conditions of sustainable development, as underlined for too long, could  be tackled thanks to the new technologies and the renewable energy systems. When the United Nations designated 2012 as the “International Year for Sustainable Energy for all”  they called  for “a major UN initiative” to achieve three goals by 2030: “universal access to modern energy services, reducing global energy intensity by 40 percent,   and increasing renewable energy use globally to 30 percent of total primary energy supply” (UNF, 2012). Governments, policy-makers, regulators, and global development institutions are nowadays debating on targets such as universal access and widespread promotion of renewable energy systems and on eradicating energy poverty, mitigating climate change and promoting the transition to sustainable energy (Sovacool,  2012). In the introduction of a recent book the editors have pointed out that the world has finally come to recognize the central role of energy in human and economic development and “this goal has now moved to the front burner”( Halff et al., 2014).  In fact until very recently, there has been little mention of energy access even in the vast economic development literature. Remarkably, energy access did not have any place and role in the UN Millenium Goals (UN, 2010). Currently, although the idea of a linkage between energy access and development is accepted, “understanding and measuring how the linkage exactly works is still in its infancy”, so that energy poverty is still not one of the  parameters to measure human poverty (Halff et al. : 2014, 3). Nonetheless, given that energy access is a necessary condition for economic development, providing modern energy services would not be sufficient to guarantee development (IEA, 2011 and  2012). When in 2002 the IEA’s World Energy Outlook made a first assessment of energy and poverty, the result was that at that time 1.6 billion people had no access to electricity. Since then, economic development and increasing urbanization in several developing countries and ongoing programmes promoting energy access have led to appreciable progress. Despite these improvements, today nearly 1.3 billion people still do not have  access to electricity and around 2.6 billion rely on the traditional use of biomass and coal  for cooking and heating which causes air pollution and potential health implications (Sovacool: 2014, 28)... (segue)

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