Rodrigo Osorio
General Director
Energy Agency of Puebla
Expert Contributor

Universal Electrification an Indelible Right

By Rodrigo Osorio | Wed, 08/12/2020 - 09:11

“Development consists of the removal of various types of unfreedoms that leave people with little choice and little opportunity of exercising their reasoned agency. The removal of substantial unfreedoms, it is argued here, is constitutive of development.”

― Amartya Sen, Development as Freedom

There are many challenges we face in the energy sector, but unquestionably one of the most urgent is universal electrification. Lack of electrification is a handbrake for those experiencing it and an amplifier to any other social disadvantage. We dream of an energy transition, but if there are people left behind we cannot move towards the green future that we long for. PRODESEN estimated that, in 2019, 6,497 population groups in Mexico lacked access to electricity. This reality is painful and both the public and private sectors have a moral obligation to turn to solutions which will end this inequality once and for all.

Not having electricity coverage is incapacitating to carry out the activities that support a society. Without electricity, there are fewer hours to work, sunset becomes a threatening curfew for schoolbooks and notebooks, rather than an eagerly awaited show, and jobs that could take little time and physical energy, turn unnecessarily exhausting. 

A person who lives without electricity unintentionally reduces his/her productivity and loses daily opportunities for social growth. This is doubly true in rural communities, which make up the majority of populations without electrification.  In addition, manual labor in agriculture could easily be automated with electricity, as well as, transforming it into a catalyst for change for thousands of Mexicans.

Keeping in mind the importance of electrification in human history, we cannot neglect its effect on the wellbeing of people. There are households that still rely on kerosene or wood-burning lamps to light up their homes, which run the risk of developing vision and breathing issues, not to mention the risk of fatal accidents.

Additionally, the availability of drinking water relies entirely on energy throughout its value chain, from groundwater pumping, transportation, water purification and delivery to the population (World Bank, 2013). Without clean water it is impossible to imagine a society and energy plays a leading role in this equation. In the basis of these assumptions, I reinforce how crucial electrification is to a stable and decent life.

We might keep discussing the value of electrification forever, but it's crucial to start thinking about alternatives, and more so to move to materialize them. Although it is true that the percentage of the country's lack of electricity coverage is small, we cannot underestimate the impact we face in mitigating that percentage as it should be. We must bear in mind that the communities we refer to when we speak about lack of access to electricity have been disadvantaged traditionally, possibly due to geographical reasons. So how do you go about electrifying these places that seem to have been forgotten? The answer can be found in renewable energy.

The chances of success that renewable energy brings in improving the lives of communities lagging in electricity are dizzying. First, we are talking about energy generated on-site, so the issue of transmission is solved, resulting in users' energy independence and thus empowering them in their business and personal activities. Additionally, the environmental benefit of renewable energy for universal electrification needs to be highlighted. These sources of energy have zero emissions of polluting gases and greenhouse effect (GHG), which allows for balancing social needs with environmental ones. Not surprisingly, it is because of this that renewable energy is trending internationally.

Knowing the enviable potential of Mexico for the use of renewable energy, it is hard to believe that in the country there are about 1.8 million people (1.5% of the national population) are still excluded from electricity access (PRODESEN, 2018). Additionally, our country is privileged enough to be geographically located between 14 ° and 33 ° north latitude, resulting in an average daily global irradiation of approximately 5.5 kWh / m2 / d, being one of the countries with the greatest potential for solar use.

On the other hand, we have a high potential in geothermal and wind energy (SENER, 2012), to mention some of the energy sources that we can use to take on this great responsibility that we have with so many people who have been sadly neglected by the current infrastructure.
People must be at the center of all initiatives aimed at raising their quality of life, as well as to keep in mind that to start any project that has an impact on their daily lives, key actors must respect the right to prior consultation.

We must seek to ensure that the synergy between the federal government, state agencies and local governments, originates from the community, promoting their involvement at all stages, from design through implementation and monitoring, thereby making local people the protagonists of electrification projects. Prior consultation is essential for this, since other collective rights such as self-determination and autonomy are also ensured. It is time to recognize that individuals can act as agents of their own development.

The power of change brought to a population by electricity is hardly surpassed. To start thinking about a future that radiates energy wellbeing and equality, a fully electrified country must be achieved. Our nation's current and future development depends to a large extent on proper electrical infrastructure planning so that all people enjoy a dignified life as stipulated in its fourth article of the Mexican Constitution. It is no longer acceptable for many communities to live in the dark. In order to achieve social justice, it is imperative to achieve universal electrification.

The data used in this article was sourced from:  
Banco Mundial, BID, BID Energía, CONEVAL, ENDE Bolivia, UN, Plan Estatal de Desarrollo 2019-2024, SENER, Fuentes Aguilar, García Ochoa, Numman
Photo by:   Rodrigo Osorio