Empowering young people to achieve universal energy access and address climate change

By Sarah Hambly, Partnership and Communications Manager, Energy Saving Trust, co-Secretariat, Efficiency for Access | October 28, 2021

Currently 759 million people around the world lack access to energy or appliances that can help them earn a living, irrigate agriculture and stay cool in a world of rising temperatures. To develop markets for these appliances and enhance clean energy access, products need to become more efficient and affordable.

These issues underpin the work of Efficiency for Access, a global coalition promoting high-performing appliances to accelerate clean energy access for the world’s poorest people, and chaired by UK aid and the IKEA Foundation. Efficiency for Access’s flagship initiative, the Low Energy Inclusive Appliances programme, which is delivered by Energy Saving Trust and CLASP, has helped almost 9 million people gain improved energy access through appliances that it has funded.

We are also at a turning point. By committing to the Paris Agreement in 2015, countries agreed to limit global warming to a relatively safe 1.5°C to combat climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change’s recent Sixth Assessment Report provided a sobering update on the climate catastrophe that the world is facing. The Panel noted that unless there are immediate, rapid, and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting warming to close to 1.5°C or even 2°C will be beyond reach.

Developing countries will be the hardest hit by climate change and the least able to afford its consequences. Vulnerable groups including women and girls, people with disabilities, the elderly, and displaced people will be particularly affected.

If we are serious about achieving the dual goals of enhancing access to modern energy services and combating climate change in the long term, all stakeholders need to take decisive action. For lasting change, young people can be an important part of the solution.

According to recent estimates, there are 1.8 million young people aged 10–24, which the UN believes represents the largest generation of youth in history. They are acutely aware of the climate emergency that the world is facing and are working on the frontlines of climate action to develop bold and original solutions. We can further empower young people to address the climate emergency and achieve universal energy access by helping them gain the skills and experience to create appliances for remote and rural communities and engage successfully with decision makers.

These considerations inspired the creation of the Efficiency for Access Design Challenge, which began in 2018. Delivered with the support of Engineers Without Borders UK, the Challenge is a global, multidisciplinary competition that empowers university students to help accelerate clean energy access. They work in teams to design affordable and high-performing appliances and technologies for low to middle income countries.

Funded again by UK aid and the IKEA Foundation, the Challenge has just begun its third year and scaling fast. In the first year of the competition, 78 students from nine universities submitted 14 projects. In its second year, 89 students from 13 universities submitted 23 projects.

Students’ submissions have demonstrated a real commitment to fostering low-carbon development and enhancing social inclusion. A couple of the teams created solar powered electric cookers, which can reduce indoor air pollution, one of the biggest contributors to cardiovascular disease in the global South. It can also free women from the burden of collecting firewood and give them time to engage in income generating activities.

Elsewhere, considering the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic, teams have created solar-powered appliances that can help treat patients and store much-needed vaccines. And teams have also been sensitive to the needs of smallholder farmers who constitute most of the population across the geographies where Efficiency for Access works. One team from TERI School of Advanced Studies designed a community level solar-powered hydroponic fodder unit for rural areas, which could help boost livestock productivity and income generation for smallholder farmers.

Aside from this, young people also need to engage meaningfully with actors in the energy system and be actively included throughout decision-making and planning processes. Student Energy’s Space for Youth programme aims to work with governments, companies, and other organisations to facilitate meaningful, equitable dialogue and collaboration between young people and decision-makers. In 2019, Student Energy brought 60 young leaders from 25 countries to the 10th Annual Clean Energy Ministerial and 4th Mission Innovation Forum in Vancouver, Canada. This marked the first time that young people have participated in the Clean Energy Ministerial and Mission Innovation Meetings.

Ultimately, collaboration and innovation will be critical to reducing emissions and keeping global temperature rises below 1.5°C. As world leaders gather at COP26 in just a few days time to set ambitous plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the next decade, it is hoped that they seriously consider how to harness the imagination and talent of young people.

At COP26, Efficiency for Access is working with ICF and the International Energy Agency (IEA) as Energy Access co-theme leads at the COP Resilience Hub to deliver several events that showcase the talented people and organisations around the world creating innovations that help countries and vulnerable communities thrive while withstanding external shocks. On November 4, from 11.15 – 12.45 pm GMT, we will host a live Q&A session that highlights solar-powered agricultural technologies that are enhancing clean energy access for smallholder farmers and helping them maintain their livelihoods. From 5.15 – 6.45 pm GMT, we will host a panel discussion that explores how to support local clean energy entrepreneurs. You can register for both events at the COP Resilience Hub website.

We are also working with Transforming Energy Access (TEA) and Modern Energy Cooking Services to host a live Q&A session entitled ‘How solar-powered technologies can help empower people and protect the planet’ that we are hosting at the SDG7 pavilion on 4 November. You can register to attend this event here.