Understanding the Need

Without electricity our lives would be radically different– We could not light our homes, our schools, or our healthcare facilities. We would spend hours each day collecting kindling for our cooking and heating needs. We would not be able to refrigerate our food or our medications. Communication would be drastically limited…

For individuals in more than two million villages the absence of electricity is not an imaginative exercise, but a daily reality.

According to the International Energy Agency, 1.3 billion individuals are without access to electricity and 2.6 billion rely on biomass (wood, dung, crop residue) for their daily cooking and heating needs. It is estimated that 95% of the world’s energy poor live in sub-Saharan Africa or developing Asia, and 84% reside in rural areas.

Energy poverty, or the lack of access to modern energy services, is often cited as the worst type of poverty because it compromises nearly every aspect of an individual’s life.

Economic Development:

According to the United Nations, one billion people survive on less than $1 USD per day. In many nations, families rely on kerosene and charcoal to meet their daily energy needs. Purchasing these costly fuels strains the family’s meager income.

The absence of electricity stifles job creation and limits business potential. It complicates basic daily tasks, leaving little time for work outside of the home. With limited economic opportunity, families living in energy poverty struggle to break out of the cycle of absolute poverty.


A recent study revealed that per hour, emissions from traditional cook stoves equate to that of 400 cigarettes. According to the 2010 Global Burden of Disease analysis, indoor air pollution is estimated to cause approximately 3.5 million premature deaths per year, making it the largest environmental threat to health in the world today. Inhalation of indoor air pollution has been linked to a plethora of health ailments, including acute lower respiratory infections, chronic obtrusive pulmonary disease, lung cancer, cardiovascular disease, asthma, cataracts, low birth weight and perinatal mortality. Additionally, numerous children suffer serious burns each year from traditional cook stoves and turned over kerosene lamps.

The absence of electricity also significantly limits the potential and quality of healthcare. Without electricity, healthcare workers cannot see during nighttime emergencies, and clinics cannot refrigerate medication or vaccines.


According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Forest Report, approximately 90% of wood removals in Africa are used for energy. If deforestation rates continue at pace, several African countries are projected to virtually lose all of their primary forest in the coming years. Deforestation negatively impacts biodiversity, drives climate change and dries out fertile farmland. If an alternative solid biomass is used in place of wood, such as dried dung, soil fertility is reduced and harvest size decreases.

Furthermore, the burning of biomass contributes significantly to the formation of “brown clouds”. These pollutants have been correlated to the alteration of climate patterns and have greatly reduced agricultural productivity.


Many energy poor families cannot afford to send their children to school.  If a child is fortunate enough to obtain an education, the absence of electricity stifles the learning environment. Without electricity, educational resources are significantly limited.  Moreover, the absence of lighting complicates the child’s ability to complete homework in the evening.


There is an apparent gender bias in rural energy poverty. As a result of historic inequality and traditional gender roles, females disproportionately bear the burden of the endemic energy deficit.

Traditionally, females are responsible for collecting firewood. As resources become increasingly scarce, women have to venture further into rough terrain where they are vulnerable to attack by humans and animals. It has been reported that, despite the risks, women continue to carry out this task because if men go out they may be killed, while women will “only” be raped.

In much of rural, sub-Saharan Africa, women spend 2-3 days per week in search of fuel for their family. It is estimated that, on average, the women carry 20kg of firewood 5 km per day. This is not only debilitating to the human body, but it also interferes with other responsibilities, including school, childcare and work.

Additionally, the absence of lighting decreases the number of hours available for household tasks.  A United Nations report reveals that when a woman is overburdened, she is significantly more likely to keep her daughter(s) home to help with household tasks, and thus away from school. Without an education, females are essentially locked out of the global economy.


Due to limited infrastructure, rural areas of developing nations are often isolated. The absence of electricity further excludes these communities. As our global society progresses, technological apparatuses, such as cell phones, become less of a luxury, and more of a necessity.

Mobile devices enable rural residents to call doctors, order supplies from urban areas and confirm market prices. Studies have also asserted a positive correlation between increased mobile technology and long term GDP.

World leaders have declared that if we, as a global community, are serious about meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), then increased energy access must become a priority. In many developing nations, the government cannot afford to expand the electrical grid into rural villages. Additionally, increased reliance on fossil fuels equates to increased strain on our fragile environment. However, with renewable energy resources, we do not have to choose between creating opportunity and protecting the planet. Please explore our project page for stories showcasing the promise of solar energy.