Beep, beep, beep. Your alarm wakes you up and you switch on the light. Or perhaps you snooze a couple of times before you do. You go downstairs, make breakfast, read the news on your tablet and check your phone to see what you’ve missed during your sleep. Time to brush your teeth, take a hot shower and start the day – or perhaps getting dressed before you do.
Today, you go to work – a five meter walk in my case during these crazy times. You switch on your laptop, check your email and start your first video call of many. Around lunchtime you cook a meal and continue working until you are hungry again. You switch on your induction hob, prepare a lovely dinner, switch on the lights because it is getting dark early these days and drag yourself to the sofa. To switch off your brain, you switch on the TV. You complain about the quality of the TV-shows and switch it off again. You’ve had enough of all these blinking screens, so you decide to go to bed early. You brush your teeth, wash your face and put on your charming pajamas. A bit of reading and then you switch off the light. And yourself.
We might not always realise this, but try to imagine for how many of these activities you need energy. You even need energy to be able to read this blog. Now try to imagine having a day without having access to modern energy. That is the life that still about 840 million people worldwide are living. Not even mentioning the billions of people – and that is unfortunately not a typo: billions – without access to clean cooking solutions, still cooking on traditional fuels such as wood and charcoal.
People without access to modern energy have to do everything using their body’s power: if you are a farmer, you harvest by hand; if you are cooking, you might have to walk for hours to collect firewoods to cook on, and if you work in a health clinic, you might not be able to safe a life because you are unable to provide the right treatment. It is expensive to be poor – and not only from a financial point of view.
It is about time that we all have access to energy. But what does it mean to achieve universal energy access (hopefully long before 2030)? We need encouraging policies, we need the right technologies and solutions, we need access to finance to make the right solutions more affordable – and it is crucial to put people at the center when developing these solutions. This is a topic I am passionate about and privileged to work on on a daily basis.
But what does it mean to ‘work on’ this on a daily basis? People often ask me what I do as a programme manager in renewable energy. The honest answer is that I am not doing so much myself. I am not the one executing on the real work but I do get to work with inspiring partners that are doing so. Because I am sure that I will not do their work justice by just explaining it, I share these three inspiring videos to give you a glimpse of what I mean. This is what gives me energy.
While I am inspired by the relentless work of others, it also hits me when I realise how massive the problem is that they are trying to solve. Especially when meeting families in rural areas, who are so friendly to invite me in their houses to talk about their daily lives. Explaining how they earn a living – if they do, how they obtain their food – if they do, where their children go to school – if they do, and what happens to them when they get sick. It makes me realise how different their lives are than that of my own. And how lucky I am that I grew up in different circumstances, that now enable me to be in this position.
A number of times it has shocked me that during a conversation, I suddenly discovered two little children playing in the corner of the room. They were not visible before – not only because of the lack of light but also because the room was filled with smoke caused by their mother cooking. Hours after visiting these lovely families, my eyes are still red – only because I spent fifteen minutes in a smoky room. I can still smell the charcoal in my hair and try to imagine what it is like to spend every day in my life like that. These people are real heroes.
Yes, it sometimes keeps me awake at night. But on the good days, it forces me to dream about the possibilities – driven by solutions developed by so many inspiring people contributing to achieving universal energy access. I dream about a future where everyone has access to renewable energy. It is a world without poverty, where people are enabled to develop an income in a green and inclusive way. Where energy ensures safety and reduces inequality. It is a world where people are empowered to change their own lives. A future where we are using energy sources that are not destroying our planet.