Back in my native South Africa, we practice something called Load Shedding. What this means is that the energy the country produces is shared around the country at different times of the day or night to balance the capabilities of the grid, with the demands of the nation. It takes a lot of patience to get used to it if you didn’t grow up with it.
Now, if you’re at home and Load Shedding means you can’t watch TV for a couple of hours, it’s not a big deal, but what if you’re in the hospital on a ventilator, dying from Covid-19? This is just one example of why affordable, clean, and high-yield energy is an absolute must for planet earth.
We would like to see the brave new world take a bold stand against fossil fuels and our dependence on them, as well as looking at alternative resources like waste as a fuel of the future.
This quote from Dr Charles Donovan, the Executive Director of the Centre for Climate Finance and Investment at London’s Imperial College Business School summarises it well, he said: “Reliance on fossil fuels has left countries more exposed to the economic shock of global crises like coronavirus, and governments should look to renewable energy to help reduce such risks”.
Now, allow us to go deeper and explore the impact of Covid-19 on SDG7 and the plight of bringing energy to each corner of the planet.
In 2020, 83% of the world’s population had access to electricity, a figure which leapt to 90% by 2018, with around 1 billion people gaining access to energy in just one decade. Whilst these figures are impressive, it remains that there are three-quarters of a billion people still lacking access to electricity today. This inequality has a knock-on effect, as those without electricity are less likely to gain an education or meaningful work, and so they are more likely to end up in extreme poverty in a rural area, only for their children to repeat the cycle.
Pre-Covid-19, SDG7 was hard at work trying to bring affordable, reliable, modern, and sustainable energy to developing areas, especially in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. People depend on electricity for basically every aspect of their lives, like, doing their jobs, cooking food, and getting around. There are also negative byproducts like climate change and bills. For any economy and its people to really flourish, they need complete access to affordable energy, and for the future to be bright, it needs to be cleaner and more sustainable than ever before.
Now, we’ve hit some hard times in the face of a pandemic, and the renewable energy sector is one of the first to lose its momentum. On top of that, oil prices dropped, which always results in less-than-eco-friendly behaviour, and overall with people and organisations feeling the pinch, investment in cleantech is not a huge priority right now, sadly. The impact even goes to an additional layer, as the energy companies have had less demand due to the economic shutdown and industry closures their profits have been sliced and so they may well look to increase prices soon in order to recoup lost time and money.
Supply chains of all shapes and sizes are under siege, and so trying to get parts for solar panels or windmills or eco-solutions not only made but sent and assembled in developing regions, is something that has proved to be highly difficult and will result in enormous delays. Those delays are keeping people in extreme poverty, which is the tough reality of the impact of covid on SDG7.
Dr Fatih Birol, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency, is quoted as saying
“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the deep inequalities around the world in terms of access to modern, affordable and sustainable energy. Electricity has been a vital underpinning of the response to the public health emergency in many countries – but hundreds of millions of people worldwide still lack basic access to it, with the majority of them in Sub-Saharan Africa.”
“Even before today’s unprecedented crisis, the world was not on track to meet key sustainable energy goals. Now, they are likely to become even harder to achieve. This means we must redouble our efforts to bring affordable, reliable and cleaner energy to all – especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, where the need is greatest – in order to build more prosperous and resilient economies.”
It’s true, despite a lot of progress, it never appeared that we were on track as a planet to meet the energy needs of everyone. Why is that? Well, a lack of political commitment or stability, not enough long-term energy planning, limited public and private financing, and policies that were not able to keep up with the demand are the leading culprits. Certain communities are doomed to be left behind.
Covid has exposed the access issue, as it continues to halt, disrupt, and lead to the cancellation of electrification efforts in key regions, such as sub-Saharan Africa (which is where 70% of the people who lack electricity are). Some countries, like Nigeria, have a population growth rate that far exceeds the rate of electrification, and the same is true in India. The impact that covid is having on renewables is unclear yet, but it’s obvious that the supply chain disruption that we have mentioned has caused delays and issues with installation. All data points towards a major renewable slowdown.
As we’ve alluded towards in all articles written for this series, government responsibility is absolutely paramount. We need to see governments assigning their best and brightest experts and policymakers to tasks such as affordable and clean energy development. Fortunately, there is some good work being done and governments and politicians are communicating with one another about how they can navigate climate change, energy generation, and renewables in the middle of a pandemic. We want to see countries kickstarting their sustainable energy development but in a safe way that will not spread the coronavirus.
What we hope to see after all of these pandemic troubles are over, are global governments taking the opportunity for a brave new world and grabbing it by the horns.