“Energy requirements for a decent life in developing countries are modest compared to US use – we need a new paradigm on equity”

Narasimha D Rao teaches at Yale University. Speaking to Srijana Mitra Das, he explains how eradicating poverty could help reduce energy needs and enable sustainable growth in developing economies:

Q. What is the core of your new research study titled “Decent Living Energy”?

A. My research aims to understand how poverty eradication would impact energy growth and climate change in developing countries. We have studied the amount of energy that nations need to provide everyone with a basic standard of living. To do this, we looked at different components of a decent standard of living, including clothing, housing, nutrition, household water supply, sanitation, electricity, refrigeration and the Internet, as well as education and access to motorized transport, so people can find jobs and sell products. on the stairs. We have defined all of these commodities as the eradication of poverty, and not just as consuming a certain amount of calories per day.

All of these together produce a minimum standard of living for people. This standard supports the satisfaction of people’s needs for good health and social participation. We found that the most energy intensive service in this context was transportation – health care, education, drinking water supply, etc., were small compared to that. Part of the reason is that shared resources consume much less energy per person than private resources. Therefore, in India, strategies such as building more public transport such as subways will significantly reduce energy needs, reduce air pollution, and also serve low-income communities. Public transport has the most important synergy between climate goals and development needs.

Q. How much energy does your definition of a decent life require?

A. We have a generous vision of a decent life and yet the energy needs of developing countries are modest, at about a tenth of the energy used by the United States. We have found that a range of 15 to 40 gigajoules of energy per capita is needed to meet basic living standards – US usage is over 200 per capita. The lower end of this range tends to be developing countries while the upper end tends to be cold countries which need more heating and are more car dependent. The energy needs of these cold countries are double that of developing countries, but even in industrialized countries, energy requirements for a basic minimum standard are well below average energy consumption. In the United States, the requirement is 30 to 40 gigajoules, compared to the 200 currently used.

Q. How will the surge in demand for air conditioning in the West, impacted by heat waves and climate change, now modify these energy dynamics?

A. Residential cooling needs are one of the challenges posed by heat waves, the others being forest fires, droughts and water crises. Heat waves are a historical phenomenon, and the advent of air conditioners in residential homes has pushed the demand for electricity in the United States to a peak. But many low-income groups in city centers cannot afford to cool off, so there is an issue of equity around managing climate change. There are other imbalances – we are seeing exceptional use in large suburban residences with central air conditioning supercooling homes. One solution is for a utility to remotely manage residential AC thermostats via homeowners’ consent to smart meters, etc. In parts of California, homes are already programmed for the utility to maintain an ideal temperature at a distance. This reduces the overall demand for electricity and is a sustainable strategy to manage the climate related energy situation.


Q. Why are there relatively few global discussions on energy equity, given its importance to developing economies?

A. This is an extremely important question. Several NGOs are trying to bring equity into the international debate. But, in the United States, the effort now is to try to ensure energy equity between communities in America – the Biden government has launched a major initiative to direct federal investments in energy transitions to underprivileged communities. Internationally, some industrialized countries do not want to assume their historic climate and energy responsibilities. Trying to reach net zero is a huge challenge – if they consider the energy needs of poverty eradication in India or Africa, that would mean accepting negative net commitments. Another complication is that the rapidly evolving bridging technology may seem more affordable to everyone. But this is a misnomer. Decarbonization in developing countries remains a very big challenge

We need a new paradigm for thinking about fairness. A key solution is for industrialized countries to take the lead in the development of transitional technologies. We need significant investments in market leaders and quality leadership in industrialized countries to make this technology truly affordable around the world. We also need more R&D for industries engaged in the use of fossil fuels, including steel, plastics, fertilizers, etc. These are difficult sectors for the energy transition. Addressing energy equity remains a difficult task. That said, our research has revealed important steps that developing economies themselves can take to improve energy efficiency and achieve more sustainable growth.

Opinions expressed are personal

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