Delivering energy access for all: Make Change Happen podcast episode 2

Nearly one billion people are still without access to electricity, and nearly three billion people lack clean, safe cooking facilities. IIED's new podcast focuses on how to deliver sustainable energy access for the world’s poorest.

Article, 14 November 2019

IIED’s new ‘Make Change Happen’ podcast offers an opportunity to listen to researchers discuss key global development challenges and explain how they are working to support positive change.

The second episode of the podcast looks at energy access. It features Ben Garside, who leads IIED's research on energy access and renewable energy. He is joined by researchers Nipunika Perera, and Kevin Johnstone. The recording is hosted by IIED's director of communications, Liz Carlile.

Growing recognition of energy’s importance

Garside says there is a growing understanding that energy can be a powerful driver for many other development goals, such as education and health. In addition to enabling vital services, energy access also has the potential to improve the ways in which services are delivered.

Sustainable Development Goal 7 aims to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all, and includes targets on universal access to energy services, greater use of renewable energy and better energy efficiency.

Access to energy alone is often not enough to achieve impacts. IIED's energy work sees energy as an enabler for a variety of priority needs of poor people living in remote areas – including health, education, and promoting productive uses of energy for improved income and jobs. 

IIED studies and promotes energy delivery models informed from the ‘bottom-up’ and tailored to local contexts and end-user needs to create more impactful energy systems that are relevant, resilient and sustainable over the long term. A key part of this is understanding policy and finance instruments that will deliver these locally appropriate solutions and be responsive to changing technologies, contexts, and markets.

There is still a long way to go to achieve energy access for all. Nearly one billion people are still without access to electricity, and nearly three billion lack clean, safe cooking facilities.

Johnstone says a large proportion of those one billion people without electricity access live in remote areas far from national grid infrastructures. In these areas, off-grid technologies will play a key role. These technologies can range from basic installations that provide enough energy for a light or for charging a phone, through to mini-grids that can connect whole villages.

Podcast cover image

Social context of energy use

But connectivity doesn't always translate to impact. Nipunika Perera highlights the need to maximise the positive impacts of connection by looking at the social contexts of energy use and planning for energy needs.

She gives the example of health facilities built without considering energy needs. When it comes to providing maternity health services, or medical testing, such facilities may struggle to deliver their services because energy has not been considered at the start of the project. 

Johnstone describes the Energy Change Lab programme, a partnership between IIED and Hivos that is researching how productive use of energy could help grow Tanzania's rural economy. He says the lab has shown the need for holistic approaches when using energy to generate economic activity – taking into account not just financing, but also technical skills, business skills, the provision of appliances and the issue of servicing.

Rolling out off-grid energy will require huge investments. IIED has recently published a major research report on the potential of financial aggregation for speeding off-grid.


Head and shoulders photo of Ben Garside

Ben Garside is a principal researcher in IIED's Shaping Sustainable Markets research group. He is a former engineer who now leads IIED's research on energy access and renewable energy.  

Head and shoulders photo of Nipunika Perera

Nipunika Perera is a researcher in IIED's Shaping Sustainable Markets research group. She is an engineer by training. She has a particular interest in links between productive energy use and social impacts, and climate resilience, adaptation and mitigation.

Head and shoulders photo of Kevin Johnstone

Kevin Johnstone is a researcher in IIED's Shaping Sustainable Markets research group. He brings extensive experience of working in-country, and is particularly focused on market-based approaches to delivering off-grid energy.

Head and shoulders photo of Liz Carlile

Liz Carlile (host) is director of the Communications Group at IIED. She is an expert in strategic marketing and communications, with a particular focus on research communications and policy influence, and has published on social learning and climate change communications.

How to listen and subscribe

The ‘Make Change Happen’ podcast will provide informal insights into IIED’s work to create positive change and make the complex issues we face more accessible to wider audiences. The title refers to IIED’s 2019-2024 strategy, which sets out how IIED plans to respond to the critical challenges of our time.

You can subscribe to the podcast on your favourite podcast app as follows:

The podcast is also available on IIED's YouTube channel.

You can follow the panellists on Twitter: @NipunkiaCP and @LizCarlile. Follow the podcast on @IIED_Voices for all the latest updates.