The energy transition that powered the Industrial Revolution helped create a new economic and social class by raising the incomes and changing the occupations of a large fraction of society who were then employed in rural, agrarian economies. The next energy transition will occur under fundamentally different socioeconomic conditions. Future energy systems must supply adequate energy to support the high and still growing living standards in wealthy nations, and they must supply energy sufficient to relieve the abject poverty of the world’s poorest. The scale of the world’s underclass is unprecedented in human history. According to the World Bank, about 1.2 billion people still live on less than $1 per day, and almost 3 billion on less than $2 per day. Nearly 110 million primary school age children are out of school, 60 percent of them girls. 31 million people are infected with HIV/AIDS. And many more live without adequate food, shelter, safe water, and sanitation.
Energy use and economic development go hand-in-hand, so poverty has an important energy dimension: the lack of access to high quality forms of energy. Energy poverty has been defined as the absence of sufficient choice in accessing adequate, affordable, reliable, high quality, safe and environmentally benign energy services to support economic and human development. Nearly 1.6 billion people have no access to electricity and some 2.4 billion people rely on traditional biomass—wood, agricultural residues and dung—for cooking and heating. The combustion of those traditional fuels has profound human health impacts, especially for woman and children. Access to liquid and gaseous fuels and electricity is a necessary condition for poverty reduction and improvements in human health.
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