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The Link between Technological Advancement in the Energy Sector and Sustainable Development Goal Number Three and Seven

Date:27 October 2021

By Jamie Behrendt, PhD Researcher University of Groningen, j.behrendt@rug.nl

Introduction

The third and the seventh United Nations Sustainable Development Goal aim to ensure good health as well as affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy by 2030. This will be challenging, as a large part of the world population does not have access to energy, or only limited access based on dirty fuels. For instance, the World Bank estimates that globally, 2.3 billion people do not have access to clean cooking fuels.[1] This results in indoor air pollution which is a considerable threat to health, resulting in disease and death in developing countries.[2]  The link of energy and health has been known for a long time. A large-scale energy transition programme in Indonesia adequately highlights the relationship between the two.  In 2007, the rising pressure of the fuel source kerosine motivated the Indonesian government to pursue the conversion of 42 million households to using liquid petroleum gas instead of kerosine. This accounts for the largest project focusing on a household energy transition in the developing world, changing the electricity supply of 70% of the population.[3] After this energy transition, the country accounted lower death rates, and in particular infant mortality, dropped.[4]

Between 2007 and 2021, technological advancements have created new chances for the improvement of indoor air pollution. One system that can have an impact on the access to energy and the lowering of indoor air pollution is the micro electricity grid (hereinafter microgrid). A microgrid can be described as a decentral energy system in which electricity is produced, consumed, and possibly stored on a local level, independently of the central electrical grid structure in place in a certain area. This means, that microgrids can also be built in areas with no actual electrical infrastructure, which still exist in many developing countries. The following article addresses the connection between health and energy, and the challenges this poses, as well as how those challenges can be met by the development of microgrids. This provides insight into how the development of microgrids can offer a viable energy source in developing countries. This can help realising the sustainable development goals, in particular goal number three relating to health and number seven relating to clean energy.

Energy and Health

Energy and health can be connected from two different perspectives: the use of dirty fuels, in particular inside the home, and the total lack of energy. Using dirty fuels inside the home, like kerosine, or even plain fire can have detrimental health and safety effects. Among other aspects, risks include:

Fires, severe burns, respiratory disease, potential links to tuberculosis and cataracts, and child poisoning from unintentional ingestion of kerosene.’[5]

Limited or no access to energy severely impacts a population’s health and health care. As rural areas oftentimes also do not have proper hospitals close, health care services are carried out within the village. It is needless to say that lack of energy creates immense risks. As an example, infant delivery without sufficient light is highly dangerous for both the infant and the mother. Furthermore, the maintenance of sanitation is more difficult without access to energy, thereby facilitating the spread of infectious diseases.[6] Furthermore, lack of light on streets leads to a higher rape rate for women as compared to streets that are lightened.

Less obvious health benefits of energy relate to the prevention of animal induced injuries. To illustrate, the population in an archipelago situated at the Ganges River delta in India was under a constant threat of poisonous snake bites and fatal run - ins with tigers .[7] The establishment of electric lines for light decreased the injury rate, as the population could see the animals. Also, the electrification of those areas allowed villages to install refrigerators for medication, which lead to decreased mortality rates from injuries.[8]

In the past, developing countries experienced difficulties with electrification due to lacking infrastructure. With the advancement of microgrids, pre-existing infrastructure is no longer a necessity, as the microgrid takes advantage of local power sources instead of a central electricity grid. Energy can be produced by relying, for instance, on wind or solar as renewable sources, or diesel generators as a less sustainable option. To harvest the produced energy and store it for times of e.g. low wind or sunshine, storage systems should be in place as well.  Consequently, a microgrid could be provide energy in the most rural areas if the national regulatory framework facilitates the development of decentral electricity systems.

In fact, Sub-Saharan Africa has lots of untapped renewable energy potential. If harvested, this energy could curb regional development and protect the health of the population. To harvest the energy that is produced by renewable sources, energy can be stored in microgrids by installing, for instance, batteries. One initiative to realise this electrification is the ‘Power Africa – Beyond the Grid’ project. The project, with its 40 partners worldwide, is committed to invest in the electrification of rural areas in Burkina Faso, Liberia, Zambia, Mozambique, and Uganda to bring clean, modern and affordable energy.[9]

Concluding remarks 

This article highlights the importance of access to energy and electrification in developing countries. Microgrids can play an important role in this regard. Promoting the rollout of this system in developing countries would facilitate the realisation of the third and the seventh United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, as there is a clear link between access to energy and the health and well-being of a population. In the short term, the successful integration of microgrids into rural areas can positively influence people’s lives by improving living conditions and health. However, these are not the only potentials of the promotion of this system: these extend far beyond in this article. Long term benefits, that require further attention, touch upon multiple sustainable development goals, including goal number six relating to access to cleaner water and sanitation, goal number eight dealing with economic growth, goal number 12 on responsible consumption and production, as well as goal number 13 on climate action.

[1] Imelda, ‘ Cooking that kills: Cleaner energy access, indoor air pollution, and health ’ [2020] Journal of Development Economics 147.

[2]Ibid

[3] Ibid.

[4]Ibid.

[5] Schnitzer et al, ‘ Microgrids for Rural Electrification: A critical review of best practices based on seven case studies ’ ( United Nations Foundation Report , February 2014 ).

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] For more information about health and energy, see Michael Woldeyes’ previous post on the Student Blog: Michael Woldeyes, ‘Energy for health: The right to health and the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam’ (Global Health Law Student Blog, 23 August 2021) < https://www.rug.nl/rechten/onderzoek/expertisecentra/ghlg/student-blog/energy-for-health-the-right-to-health-and-the-grand-ethiopian-renaissance-dam> accessed 25 October 2021.

[9] GBFA, ‘Beyond the Grid’ <https://beyondthegrid.africa/> accessed 25 October 2021.