The Bartlett Development Planning Unit


Grid Connected but the Urban Poor Still Lack Energy Access

9 December 2015


This week at the COP21 climate change negotiations in Paris, there has been discussion of the role cities can play in reducing emissions. There has also been discussion of how we need to change patterns of energy use if we are to stay within safe environmental limits.

Our latest paper, published in collaboration with Practical Action, brings together these two debates by thinking about the energy access needs of the urban poor using a case study from an informal settlement in Maputo, Mozambique. The vast majority of Mozambique's energy comes from renewable resources - in particular electricity supply from hydro (power sharing from the Cahora Bassa dam supplies 75% of current electricity). Despite very low levels of electricity access nationally (20%), the energy utility has made great efforts in recent years to improve electricity access for all urban residents, including those in informal settlements.

Research published in the latest edition of the Poor People's Energy Briefing series shows that despite connection levels of over 95%, only 70% had a reliable connection that they could afford to use regularly (through buying pre-paid credits). They also suffered because the supply itself is intermittent.

We know that energy access means more than just a household connection (Total Energy Access) - and in this informal settlement, life had changed dramatically thanks to the introduction of street lighting and new businesses using electricity.

However, the huge remaining gap was around cooking. Over three quarters of people were cooking with charcoal using very basic stoves which still produced significant amounts of harmful smoke.

The urban poor still consume tiny fractions of the energy of their richer neighbours, even when they have a grid connection. Their need for energy efficiency is not about mitigating emissions, but about getting more energy services (for lighting or cooling etc) from a limited budget. There is a huge need for improved access to better, cleaner cooking solutions which always trail behind in conversations about energy access. These are the key issues for the urban poor in discussions about both universal energy access and climate change.

Originally posted on Linkedin by Lucy Stevens, Practical Action's Policy & Practice Adviser - Energy and Urban Services