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Gareth Phillips
Gareth Phillips is Manager of the Climate and Environment Finance Division in the African Development Bank, based in Abidjan, Ivory Coast.

Access to energy is predominantly a development issue. Energy access radically alters quality of life, providing access to information and better education; it frees up women’s time, improves food security and nutrition and offers options to apply energy for productive use. As a result, energy access improves the economic status of households and communities, giving people more choice and hence making them more resilient and less vulnerable to shocks and disasters.

When that energy is renewable energy, energy access becomes a climate change and development achievement. If energy is renewable, then the GHG emissions are negligible and the development is in line with the world’s low carbon goals. In Africa, there is a great demand for off-grid and mini-grid energy access which can increasingly be provided by renewable energy sources. Furthermore, by removing the reliance on supply chains, particularly the supply of fossil fuels to remote areas and small islands, renewable energy access significantly reduces the vulnerability of communities to weather induced disruption and the impacts of economic and political events such as those the world is currently witnessing in Ukraine. As a result, off-grid and mini-grid renewable energy access can make a significant contribution to both adaptation and mitigation goals.

However, the adaptation benefits of renewable energy access can be further enhanced when that clean energy can meet demand and is affordable, which is a function of energy efficiency. When renewable energy is affordable, then consumers can be considered resilient. Efficient use of energy means that available energy can be used to achieve more – i.e.more people can be connected to the same capacity; or more use can be made from that capacity; and importantly, because users are efficient in their use, they do not use very much electricity and can hence afford to pay for their energy usage. All of these features mean that clean energy access combined with energy efficiency is more likely to be able to sustain economic activities and maintain quality of life during periods of stress.

As an example, consider the impact of refrigeration units installed to prolong the shelf life of agricultural produce. If the technology is energy inefficient, then as demand for energy increases during hotter conditions, the likelihood of a brown-out increases, with the potential loss of stored produce. These events push farmers and communities back towards poverty. If the chillers are energy efficient and the cold stores are well insulated, their ability to withstand increased heat stress is increased, making the famers and community more resilient to climate induced stresses. Similar arguments can be made when energy usage is high causing increased bills and higher food prices.

In conclusion, energy efficiency is the keystone in renewable energy access developments. Combining energy access with the use of energy efficient technologies increases the chances that users will be able to successfully withstand extreme events and be able to protect assets, maintaining value and quality of life in the face increasingly demanding conditions.