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The Shift in Energy Choices will be Life-Changing

A Message from Jeffrey Prins, Head of Portfolio – Renewable Energy, IKEA Foundation

The IKEA Foundation recently joined the Efficiency for Access Coalition (EforA) to tackle energy poverty through efficient renewable energy access. We’re excited about how energy efficiency could make the potential of solar energy go much, much further. As EforA points out, 50% less investment will be needed in solar panels or battery storage as a backup for when the sun isn’t shining.

Such an efficiency push means we can stop blaming solar for being too expensive, or for not being powerful enough, to serve energy needs. Looking critically at energy wasting appliances will involve reconsidering our standard energy choices that favour expensive grid-extensions and polluting fossil fuels. That shift in energy choices will be life-changing for the 840 million people without basic energy access now. The prospects are thrilling when you see things like solar-powered welding and you realise so much more can be done if we do it efficiently.

With more efficient appliances we can stop the blame game and start celebrating solar energy’s potential to reach the underserved. Such efficiency efforts – not wasting energy and making the most of what we have – mirror the efforts of a retailer we know well to sell only LED lightbulbs in 2015 and to become climate positive by 2030. “Togetherness”is key for us in this work. We’re convinced that we can only effect change if we work with others, which is why we are excited to learn from the 30+ coalition members who joined EforA before us. This represents a positive, collective effort to meet the 2030 goals.

I joined IKEA Foundation at the end of 2016, but my journey in energy access began 2005 at the DOEN Foundation. We were enchanted then by the so-called leap-frog effect of off-grid renewables and how to displace the global kerosene lighting bill. When I recently attended the Global Off-Grid Forum in Nairobi, which I had attended 10 years before, it was refreshing to see the emerging view that energy access should go “beyond just lighting” and focus more on “energy for productive use”, in part inspired by the most recent International Finance Corporation study and Council on Energy, Environment and Water.

At the IKEA Foundation, we are inspired by the long-standing efforts of our partner SELCO Foundation to fight energy poverty and the more recent efforts by the Access to Energy Institute. Both hone in on the role of productive use, starting from the perspective of the user. We see that most people are solving their energy needs already, or at least trying. We are interested in how we can provide access to energy that is renewable, affordable and reliable and meets people’s needs. This goes further than offering a new technology solution, which people might not want nor be able to afford. People need ways of making a living from their newly acquired solar assets, so they do not end up worse off. Therefore, any potential product innovation should go hand-in-hand with financing to ensure affordability and proper market linkages. There’s a clear need for “wrap around services” to address this.

When we talk about productive use, we can see it both in terms of increased incomes – through savings or new opportunities for livelihoods – and the end of drudgery. Clean cooking, as a way to end gender-related drudgery, clearly fits this definition. When visiting Rwanda, for example, it’s not unusual to meet women who spend all day cooking. This can include collecting firewood, or buying charcoal (costing $30-50 a month), actual cooking and cleaning up, often for a large family.

Imagine saving time by not having to collect firewood every day, or spending less money per month on charcoal? That’s productive use. Money saved is often used for education or health insurance. We are now seeing energy service companies offering a better cooking experience, at a better price, with less hassle and fewer cooking hours. And we’ve seen more recent e-cooking initiatives, like efficient pressure cookers. The Appliances Empower Campaign is fitting and we are eager to see the results of that campaign.

We have taken the stance that all our efforts should push for a “smoke free” cooking experience (tier 4 and above) and check all the boxes when it comes to cooking being affordable, reliable and renewable. The service model approach to cooking, where the user is loaned a biomass stove alongside a scaling up of pellet sales, is very promising and has our support. However, we have yet to see that approach gain significant reach. E-cooking is even more nascent and needs testing from the user’s perspective.

Our commitment to renewable energy access and efficiency under SDG7 links to our conviction that it is a key enabler to other Sustainable Development Goals, including SDG5 on gender. The Appliances Empower Campaign highlights what energy does for empowering women, but goes much further to make sure we are on a development pathway that is green, inclusive and works for everyone – people and planet.

Jeffrey Prins, Head of Portfolio – Renewable Energy, IKEA Foundation (www.ikeafoundation.org)