What is Energy Poverty?


Energy poverty can be defined as a lack of access to electricity for households and for clean cooking. Sustainable Development Goal no. 7 demands access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all, but access to power is also fundamental in ensuring the success of many of the other 17 SDG’s.

10 impacts of living without access to power

Here we explore 10 real impacts of living without access to power and in energy poverty, as experienced by the 7 out of 10 people in Sub Saharan Africa.

  1. Reduced opportunity for income generation

The lack of energy access at home means no access to light, heat or power other than by candle, kerosene or battery. . As a result, income generating or study activity is limited and climbing the energy ladder almost impossible. Mobile phones cannot be charged, requiring time consuming trips to neighbouring villages to buy charging services.  Income generating activities cannot continue after dark.

  1. Challenging Childbirth

Unfortunately in many parts of rural Africa, even health clinics have limited access to power. As a result, they struggle to provide quality services, especially at night under the low light conditions. Women in particular are affected by a lack of safe medical attention during childbirth, where the availability of light positively impacts the safe outcome of birth.

  1. Lack of Refrigeration

With no access to refridgeration, communities in sub Saharan Africa, in particular, women are faced with issues around food storage, prolonging shelf life of foods, safety around food preservation and time spent on daily food shopping and gathering. In medical clinics, lack of consistent refridgeration causes problems with medication and vaccine storage, reducing shelf life and efficacity. Access to power for refridgeration promotes health, saves time and enables income generating activities to start.  run.

  1. Difficult Communication & Connected-ness

Many of the rural Sub-Saharan Africa communities without access to power, also have reduced or very limited access to the internet and have limited educational opportunities in schools without access to  computers. However mobile phone ownership is a huge growth area, providing individuals with access to the internet, mobile money tools and therefore the tools to buy solar power and other services when available. Mobile phone coverage is generally good and is seen as key to economic development, supported by many government programmes. Access to power enables households to consider working towards ownership of an electric radio or television, enabling them to be more connected to the outside world.

  1. Unsafe roads & village lighting

With no grid or off grid power, street and road lighting is not the norm in rural sub Saharan Africa. This lack of lighting causes safety issues for drivers and limits driving to day light hours, especially on un-made roads.  In villages, shops cannot stay open after dark for lack of access to power, which limits trading hours and opportunity to earn, on top of which trading has to be done in daylight hours which could be used for income generating activities such as farming, milling, grinding etc.

  1. Social impact

Without access to power, as soon as the sun goes down, activity is reduced since darkness prevails. Any cooking, study or income generating activity then has to take place with the light from a kerosene lamp or candle. Social interaction after dark is very limited, moving around after dark can be dangerous and sharing one kerosene lamp within a household for study, cooking and entertaining is not an easy or practical solution.

  1. Limited economic activity

Access to electricity stimulates new income generating activity, some of which can be performed at night.  The working day is therefore extended, and there is more flexibility on the timing and type of work that can be carried out. People without access to power are limited to working solely during the day, keeping earning potential low.

  1. Deforestation – fuel for cooking

Without access to electricity or other power sources, the majority of cooking takes place using firewood, cut down from surrounding bush and forest land. Imagine cooking over fire, and having light from candles or kerosene lamps, the home soon becomes filled with smoke and soot, a big issue for respiratory health, particularly in women who spend more time indoors and cooking over fires; not to mention the fire risk of open flames in the home. Cutting down wood for fire creates both environmental and health issues.

  1. Challenges in education

Without good quality lighting, and access to electricity to run computers in schools, students have  limited opportunities for extended and in-depth study. Statistics show that solar home lighting significantly increases study time and leads to improved results.

  1. Manual, physical hard work

Limited access to power, means the majority of daily tasks are hard, time consuming, labour intensive, manual tasks. Household tasks such as cooking, food gathering and storage, firewood chopping, water fetching, transport to market, combined with smallholder farming tasks such as grinding, milling, weaving, sewing all take place without the help of power. Life expectancy is lower, and quality of life significantly impacted.

Working towards access to power

AfricaPowerLtd creates programmes for improved off-grid power in Tanzania, Zambia and Uganda. In the communities in which we work, we have selected and are implementing life-changing solar home sytems and products that enable households to start climbing the ‘energy ladder’. Starting with a simple solar home lamp and USB charge point, through to full solar home systems with enough power to run radio, TV, mobile phone charge and lighting and fridges.

Find out more about energy poverty and the impact of access to power here.

Find out more about our work in Tanzania here.

Contact us here