Over 1.3 billion people globally live without access to electricity and 3 billion people cook and heat their homes with open fires and inefficient biomass stoves, resulting in a staggering 4.3 million deaths each year from indoor house pollution. The 2016 Ashden International Conference, sponsored by Armstrong Energy Global, will explore these issues.

Moving up the energy ladder: Rural community aspirations

Ellie Mika

When tackling energy poverty, off-grid electricity and clean cooking solutions are crucial in meeting people’s basic energy needs. There is also huge demand for appliances like TVs and refrigerators in the off-grid world, as people aspire towards an enriched energy future.

At the Ashden International Conference on 7 June we will be discussing the future of electricity in off-grid areas and how people can move up the energy ladder, faster. In the meantime, I’ve asked three previous Ashden winners how they have changed lives for their customers by introducing off-grid electricity and efficient cookstoves in remote locations.

Sarhad Rural Support Programme (SRSP) works with communities in rural Pakistan to install high-quality micro-hydro plants. SRSP won the 2015 Ashden Award for Increasing Energy Access by supplying people with much needed electricity.

“With more than 50% of the population living below the poverty line in the northern mountains, it was and is like a dream come true for these poor and marginalised local communities to have clean, affordable and sustainable energy in their areas,” says Programme Manager Atif Zeeshan Rauf.

Clean energy has given people access to life changing appliances including washing machines, butter churners, televisions, computers, cell phones and more.

These devices have significantly reduced labour time, particularly benefiting women who now have the time and capacity to start their own businesses. “After being connected to the Micro Hydro Projects,” says Atif, “women have started using their time productively, especially in stitching and developing local handicrafts/embroidery; a source of additional income to make their lives even better.”

Greenway Appliances provide clean cookstoves for rural customers in India and also know the importance of aspirational living. The organisation won the Clean Energy for Women and Girls Award in 2014 for focusing on what women want when it comes to clean cooking. Two out of three households in India cook on traditional mud stoves, the smoke from which leads to over one million premature deaths in India alone. While the Greenway cookstoves reduce smoke by 65%, marketing is focused more on its aesthetic and user-friendly features.

“All of us, across cultures and income groups like to add items to our life for more than plain utility and this fact remains very much true for our customers as well,” says Neha Juneja, Co-founder of Greenway Appliances. “Customers like to seek a product that ‘adds to their life’ in more ways and give them a glimpse of a better version of themselves and their lives. This is why we develop our products, not just performance but to bring about the ‘joy of purchase’ as well.”

SteamaCo make life better for local economies by providing renewable energy micro-grids in rural Kenya. They won the 2015 Ashden Award for Business Innovation for their pioneering approach in managing the system remotely using mobile-money payments. The micro-grids act as mini power stations for each village, supplying electricity so small businesses can grow.

“We’ve seen significant changes in villages that have had microgrids for a few years,” says Sam Duby, Co-founder and Chief Technical Officer. “Some take minutes, such as the once quiet night being newly filled with music. Some take longer. One of our customers told me recently that the biggest change he saw with having power in the village was that the young people now saw opportunity there and the rush to the big towns had reduced to a trickle.”

People in disconnected areas all over the world are aspiring towards a cleaner, more prosperous energy future. The demand for off-grid energy is on the rise, the question is how to best fulfil these needs. “Our population will expand, and our needs will expand. Human consciousness develops, awareness builds, and we have to keep changing our capacities to meet our needs in future” says Abdul Majid from Bumboret Valley, Pakistan.

SRSP, Greenway Appliances and SteamaCo are all demonstrating ways in which low carbon solutions can create better lives for rural inhabitants. Join us at the Ashden International Conference in June for a closer look at how people are moving up the energy ladder and see for yourself how energy can change the lives of people worldwide.

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