Building the energy economy of the 21st century isn't just about going from dirty fuels to cleaner, sustainable ones. It's also about making the advances of the last two centuries available to many of the world's poorest people, the have-nots of the energy world. Their welfare, not to mention economic growth in the countries they call home, depend on it.
Sitting in a solar-powered office building in Europe or an eco-friendly house in California, it's all to easy to forget just how much of the world's population goes without basic energy services. Despite the emerging world's astounding economic gains over the last decade, for a broad swath of mankind, access to electricity and modern cooking facilities remains a remote dream.
The numbers are striking. Nearly 20 percent of the people in the world—over 1.3 billion—don't have access to electricity, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's energy arm. Roughly twice that number have to make due without clean cooking facilities—in other words, stoves and fuels that send smoke billowing up inside the house, causing air pollution that kills as many as 2 million people a year, mostly women and children. These nearly 3 billion people—not far shy of half the global population—depend on firewood, charcoal, and dung to make the heat they need to cook food. The costs to health and the environment are real.