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Green energy for a brighter future: environmental necessity and economic opportunity

By Tom Houghton - Posted on 14 May 2013

Strathclyde Business School Research Fellow and renewable energy consultant, Tom Houghton, looks at the need for sustainable energy in the developing world and how Strathclyde Business School is supporting renewable energy education…

For most of us, energy is something we often take entirely for granted. We wake up to a warm house, pull cold milk from the fridge and take a hot shower before being whisked to work where we tap away at our increasingly powerful computers. All this requires energy and its delivery is so seamless that we barely give a thought to where the energy comes from or what effects its use has. But this picture is changing; the triple threats of damaging emissions, resource scarcity and spiralling demand are raising awareness of the impacts of energy use as we head towards a perfect storm of rising energy prices, potential supply interruptions and climate change.

It goes without saying that a very different picture emerges for those in developing countries.

The World Bank estimates approximately one third of the world’s population – more than two billion people – live without access to modern energy services. In sub-Saharan Africa alone more than half a billion people rely on fuel-wood, making the process of accessing energy a daily toil. Moreover, the inhalation of particulates and carbon monoxide from indoor combustion for heating and lighting results in almost two million respiratory related deaths every year, making this a health issue on a par with malaria. These figures reveal a further fundamental iniquity, for while the developing world, representing 85% of the population, contributes less than 20% of greenhouse gas emissions it is likely to suffer a disproportionate impact from climate change given the greater reliance on agriculture and the lack of economic robustness.

So vital is the role of energy in promoting development, the UN recently extended its Year of Sustainable Energy for All to an entire decade. This initiative recognises the need to ensure the path taken by developing countries to social and economic development, through greater access to affordable energy, is clean, secure and sustainable. Failure to do so may lead to an unchecked rise in global emissions that could prove extremely damaging to the environment. The UN’s ‘Partnership for Action on Green Economy’ (PAGE) initiative is an expression of this need and provides a critical pillar to the UN’s efforts to ensure development is both effective and sustainable.

Equal in importance to the environmental imperative is the economic one. Fuel price rises may put development at risk but at the same time renewables represent a potential area of opportunity for developing countries. With only 5% of the population of Sub Saharan Africa having access to electricity, this region represents a ‘blank canvas’, where fresh energy solutions can be tried and tested. If the solutions developed here can find a market beyond the region, and if the benefits can be monetised within those countries, the green engine for growth may become a reality.

With a wide-range of expertise in sustainable energy, Strathclyde Business School is ideally placed to assist in these initiatives.  Education about the role of sustainable energy in development is critical and we are currently working to establish an online training programme, specifically geared to address some of the key sustainability priorities set out by the UN.

In addition our projects in the Gambia and Malawi, for example, aim to support the introduction of renewable technologies through education and direct action.

If these efforts prove successful we may indeed be able to welcome in a brighter, greener future.

What are your thoughts on developing a plan for sustainable energy for all? What more can be done to improve modern energy access in the developing world? Please let us know by leaving a comment below.

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