Life Without Energy: Needs, Dreams and Aspirations

05.03.203 min read

Energy is a commodity that many of us take for granted. But what happens when we don’t have it? We decided to travel the world to find out.

SPACE10 and Quicksand visited 40 families in Kenya, Peru, Indonesia and India to get a first-hand insight into how families around the world live an everyday life with little or no access to electricity. In our new report, Life Without Energy: Needs, Dreams and Aspirations we unfold their stories — and explore how clean energy, including solar and off-the-grid solutions, could unlock their full human potential.

‘We wanted to tell the story of what life looks like for those without reliable electrification, and shine a light on the everyday life of real people and bring their voices to the table. We hope it enables us — and other designers — to create solutions that reflect the needs, dreams and aspirations of these 40 families — and the two billion people like them.’

— Neel Tamhane, Solar Project Lead, SPACE10

Today, about two billion people in the world — around one in four — live with limited or no access to electricity. 850 million of those, mostly located in rural areas, live completely without electricity. The others are underserved, with access only to an unreliable or inadequate grid. And if the rate of electrification doesn’t rise significantly faster than population growth, some 674 million people will still be living without electricity in 2030.

The benefits of electrification are hard to overstate. Energy access is associated with improvements to health, economic productivity, gender equality and education, in addition to reducing our impact on climate. Each year, 4 million premature deaths can be attributed to indoor air pollution from cooking on solid fuel or kerosene. Lighting can greatly increase productive working hours: a study in Ghana found that the children’s hours of study almost doubled after the family purchased a solar light. And electricity — literally — empowers: rural women who have access to energy earn more than double than their counterparts who don’t. No wonder that even the UN recognised access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy as one of its Sustainable Development Goals.

Clean energy access has a role to play here. Solar photovoltaics (PV) are already one of the cheapest ways to generate electricity in many areas of the world, and they get cheaper every year. In our report, we also explore the potential of off-the-grid, clean energy solutions for families in remote areas without access to a reliable grid — such as Pico PV, Solar Home Systems and larger-scale mini-grids.

‘[Decentralised solutions] are often criticised for their lack of power which limits economic development. However […] in situations of extreme energy poverty, the first kWhs have the most significant impact on households’ standard of living.’

— Gabrielle Desarnaud, Research Fellow, Ifri Energy Centre

Insights from this report include:

  • Access to clean, affordable energy is key to eradicating extreme poverty, creating shared prosperity, and unlocking the full potential of humanity.
  • The priorities for homes in isolated areas are: providing safe shelter; taking care of vulnerable family members; ensuring guests feel welcome; managing irregular income; sharing resources within the community; staying connected to family and friends; and leveraging the opportunity of the home to generate income.
  • Clean energy access has a role to play in fulfilling each of these priorities.
  • 60% of the people becoming electrified between 2017 and 2030 will do so through decentralised systems, equally distributed between mini-grids and off-grid PV solutions.
  • New energy solutions like solar power could provide a pathway to universal energy access.