Lighting-up the road to sustainable development for all

When exploring the challenges and the role of access to lighting (through access to energy) it is surprising to note that human nature tends to focus on differences rather than on analogies from which we can take (past) learning, thus accelerating the global transition to a sustainable society.In the case of ‘access to lighting and energy’ we see the enormous challenge of bringing sustainable and affordable clean energy lighting mainly to families and communities in rural areas in emerging and developing countries. Quite some discussions focus on the lagging economic development of rural communities in Africa and India, and then label (lack of) energy access as a problem, or at best as a CSR initiative.

Analogies between developed and developing countries
Though we as mankind are virtually 100% identical across the world, often we tend to focus on the one percent difference in color, language, geography, religion or prosperity level often followed by the creation of conflicts. Without being naïve it is my belief that we can learn much more from exploring, celebrating and learning from analogies.
Energy Access is such a challenge, that can turn into an opportunity when exploring the analogies between todays developed world and those in current developing countries.
For those living in developed countries (mostly the current OECD countries), it is only three – at most four – generations ago that these countries were struggling with high population growth, child mortality, lack of education, ‘shoddy’ healthcare and had no electric light bulb, a technology now being phased-out globally. As soon as our (great-)grandparents acquired access to affordable energy – be it this was coal –they addressed some basic needs, like lighting and cooking, quickly followed by addressing more aspirational needs like communication, healthcare and entertainment (radio, TV, mass-sports).
This is the vision that should support and empower collaborative energy access initiatives. The two differences being that instead of taking three generations, we need to go through this development spiral in one generation, and instead of old analog fossil technologies, we should work together to leapfrog to clean meaningful solutions like renewable energy, solar-LED lighting, smokefree cooking , mobile phones (already happened); and rural – mobile data driven – healthcare.

Energy access; enabler for socio-economic development
In short energy access was a vital enabler for socio-economic development for many of us in the past, and is a vital enabler for Sustainable Development for All (SD4All) today.
As solutions leapfrog to new clean technologies, so will we need to switch from selling hardware (with higher initial prices being a hurdle for low-income people) towards selling services, with capital and operational expenses combined in monthly payment mechanisms.
Likewise we are at the verge of [and many of you pioneering] the integration of mobile technologies, not just for communication, but for payments, for marketing, for capacity building and training as well as for enabling the actual service delivery.

Harry Verhaar is the Senior Director Energy & Climate Change of Philips Lighting and Vice President of Global Off-Grid Lighting Association


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