(EnergyAsia, March 1 2012, Thursday) — As a long-term strategy to reduce poverty, Asia should adopt a package of measures that combines people’s access to modern energy for heating, cooking and electricity with the ability to generate cash, supplement incomes and improve health and education

The UN Development Programme (UNDP) recently unveiled this ‘energy plus’ strategy in a report, “Towards an Energy Plus Approach for the Poor”, that was based on an analysis of 17 case studies of the links between poverty and energy across the Asia Pacific region. Its release followed the UN’s launch of a global campaign to provide ‘Sustainable Energy for All’.

The report found that the lack of energy access and its impact on health, education and income continue to be a significant cause of chronic poverty.

It found that most energy projects adopt a minimalist approach, focusing on the basic energy needs of the poor for lighting homes, cooking and heating.

“Energy services per se do not reduce poverty. Instead, they transform people from being ‘poor without energy access’ to ‘poor with energy access.’”

“This is because the energy services provided do not open opportunities to poor households to increase their incomes.

Therefore, the resources needed to acquire modern energy services continue to be limited, and energy programmes are forced to rely on perpetually unsustainable subsidies,” notes the report.

“Energy, poverty and heavy reliance on biomass fuels have a disproportionate effect on women and children, who are forced to spend significant time collecting fuel wood and preparing meals in poorly ventilated kitchens.”

The report further calls for energy access programmes that include a clear focus on women and disadvantaged groups.  It adds that “improved access to energy should be accompanied by measures that generate income or improve livelihoods, which enhances the capacity to pay for energy services.”

The publication concludes that energy access programmes and policies should be developed in conjunction with other development initiatives such as savings and credit facilities, road infrastructure, telecommunications, schools and health facilities, agricultural extensions services, access to markets and entrepreneurship development.

The report cited four successful measures to break the energy poverty cycle:

• Ensure that the energy solutions are ‘just right.’ They must be test-piloted extensively. One example is the lantern rental system introduced in Laos where solar lanterns are rented out to rural consumers and can be recharged at charging stations. The product and the means of its delivery make economic sense for poor consumers living in off-grid areas since they provide affordable lighting that is also cleaner and safer than kerosene lamps.

• Build commercially viable markets for energy products and services. Clustering dispersed markets helps make private sector provision of energy services to the poor more viable. In the Philippines, project ACCESS (Accelerating Community Electricity Services using Solar) helps to electrify remote and poor districts by clustering them into viable units, ensuring a minimum amount of guaranteed customers for each service provider. In return, the service provider has to electrify at least 25% of households in the district.

• Secure recurrent and sufficient government funding. Use appropriate financing mechanisms. Establish necessary structures for effective microfinancing. Micro-credit has played a critical role in making biogas plants affordable for the poor in Nepal. The Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana Programme extended electricity to 11.8 million households in India from 2005-2010, resulting from the Government’s strong commitment and investment to create and expand rural infrastructure as part of its ‘Building India’ national development plan, focusing on rural India and launched in 2005.

• Incorporate explicit energy access commitments into national development plans and set energy access targets and investments. In Fiji, a rural electrification programme backed by a Government target of universal electricity access, has resulted in a rise in access from 30.6% to 81.4% between 1986 and 2007. In China, a Renewable Energy Law has led to an acceleration of new wind, solar and biomass projects and has achieved a dramatic shift in the political and social atmosphere regarding renewables.

“Energy services are often not affordable by the rural and urban poor and on their own have little impact. The poor need support to generate income so that energy becomes affordable, which in turn will improve household living standards,” said Martin Krause, who leads the UNDP regional climate, environment and energy team in Asia and the Pacific.

Nearly half the world’s population lacks reliable access to modern energy services while more than 20%, or 1.4 billion people, do not have access to electricity.

Roughly 2.7 billion people or 40% of the world’s population depend on wood, charcoal or animal waste for cooking and heating. By 2030, household air pollution from biomass use in inefficient stoves is likely to cause more than 1.5 million deaths a year.