Friday, April 19, 2024

Energy poverty in Zimbabwe takes many forms but policy only looks at one

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Around the world, many countries measure energy poverty by looking at income. They define energy poverty in terms of how much of a household’s budget is used up by energy consumption. For example, if a household spends more than 10% of its income on domestic energy needs, it’s considered energy poor.

This way of seeing energy poverty encourages a focus on increasing the supply of kilowatts of electricity.

What’s more, the emphasis tends to be on the total amount of energy delivered to a group of people, without regard for how it is distributed or the distinctions between people.

For the energy poor to be told that energy supply has increased by kilowatts or megawatts may be of little relevance. Rather, they would want to know if they could access that energy and use it for purposes like cooking and heating. They need to have the capabilities to use the energy in a way that improves their lives.

As the economist Amartya Sen has observed, it’s more important to know what a person can do (capability) than how much pleasure or desire fulfilment (utility) they get from an activity.

I conducted research in the Zingondi Resettlement Area, in Manicaland province of Zimbabwe, to establish how a lack of capabilities contributes to energy poverty. My conclusion was that the local people are more capability poor than energy poor. They don’t have the capacity to convert energy into services they value – cooking and heating. People don’t need energy as such but the real opportunity to use it for meeting their needs.

My study shows that the use of objective data alone in measuring energy poverty is too narrow. Policies are usually based on objective data like kilowatts available. But the capability of an individual to use the available energy resources should be the starting point of energy development and policy. Read more…

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