Simon Bishop on solutions to energy poverty

Between two and three billion people don’t have access to basic energy services. Bishop said his team looks for solutions that can scale up, or be replicated all over the world.

Simon Bishop: There are between two and three billion people in the world who don’t have access to basic energy services, such as electricity or efficient, clean fuels for cooking their food. That’s the kind of thing that we try and tackle.

Simon Bishop of the Shell Foundation is talking about energy poverty – a lack of access to basic energy needs.

Simon Bishop: So, for example, take that issue that half the world’s population is cooking on open fires and traditional stoves. There are stoves out there – ‘clean cook stoves’ – that dramatically reduce both fuel use and emissions. The great thing about them is that they are potential self-financing solutions to this health, poverty, energy, climate change issue. People can pay the roughly $20 price tag for the stoves through the fuel savings they make over the first six months. So it’s a self-financing solution.

Bishop said his team looks for solutions that can scale up, or be replicated all over the world. He spoke of Husk Power Systems in India.

Simon Bishop: This organization takes rice husks, which are waste material, and it turns them into electricity. Imagine if you’re living in Bihar, one of the poorest states in India, which doesn’t have a government-run large-scale electricity grid. Many, many villages are therefore dark. They literally don’t have electricity. You can take a byproduct that they have locally and turn that into electricity and then supply it on local grids. It’s just a huge step forward for those local populations.

Simon Bishop spoke more about the work of the Shell Foundation.

Simon Bishop: The Shell Foundation was an independent charity that was set up by Shell, the company, in 2000. We focus on global poverty and environmental challenges with a link to energy and globalization.

He gave an example of cooking stoves as an opportunity to positively change the way the world uses energy.

Simon Bishop: Every single day, half the world’s population, three billion people, cook their food on open fires and traditional stoves, burning things like wood and dung, pretty much anything they can get their hands on. So the challenge is, how can we help those people cook more effectively? Why do we want to do that? One, is there’s a climate change angle to it. Half the world’s population burning things is not helpful. But there’s also a significant health angle. The smoke that they inhale kills around 1.5 million people every year. So when you talk about energy challenges and big events going on, we feel that one of the most important areas that requires focus is access to energy for those two or three billion people who don’t have access, and that’s what we focus on.

Bishop emphasized that for solutions to work, they must come in part from people for whom they’re intended.

Simon Bishop: You clearly need some technological knowledge, but absolutely you also need that solution to be what we term ‘voice of the customer’ driven. This is sort of an area that the Foundation focuses on, applying business thinking to energy challenges that affect the developing world, and listening to customers coming up with customer-driven solutions, rather than perhaps what has happened in the past, maybe with some governments and NGOS, where there’s been a sort of like ‘patrician’ approach to things, where solutions have been developed in countries such as Britain or America and then sort of ‘dumped’ on the developing world, as this is good for you. We want to avoid that. We want to listen to the market. We want to listen to the people on the ground, and then deliver solutions that they like and that they’re going to use, and ultimately they’re going to pay for.

Scalability, said Bishop, is integral to the success of energy solutions for the future.

Simon Bishop: Trying to find scalable solutions to these tricky challenges is difficult. You have to be willing to put in significant resources, possibly millions of dollars. And you have to be innovative. Let’s get back to the size of the problem. Half the world’s population lack access to basic energy, or they cook their food on open fires and traditional stoves, with the smoke leading to all kinds of negative health impacts. So if you’re looking or solutions to these problems, these solutions have to go to scale. They have to impact huge numbers of lives. We’re not really in favor of coming up with solutions that help one particular village, in one particular country in Africa. We want to try and come up with solutions that can be replicated many, many times over around the world. Scalability is the number one priority, I would say, for the foundation. Without scale, we are not going to make a significant dent on these issues that affect half the world’s population.

Our thanks today to Shell – encouraging dialogue on the energy challenge.

Jorge Salazar