Think of the last time the lights went out. When we lose power, we are immediately reminded by every inconvenience — by the inability to heat, cook, and charge our phones — of our complete dependence on reliable, affordable, on-demand energy.
Americans are blessed never to worry about whether electricity will be there when we need it. Yet 3 billion people, nine times the United States population, are not as fortunate and lack access to clean, around-the-clock, reliable, and affordable energy.
For billions across Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, and South America, that means turning to wood, charcoal, or plant residue and even dried animal waste for heating and cooking. Additionally, for 300 million children around the world, it means going to a school without electricity and studying under streetlights, if they are fortunate enough even to have those.
Energy access unlocks human potential, and the United States, as the world’s top energy producer, has a moral imperative to leverage its energy abundance as a force for good around the world.
The reduction of global energy poverty is a direct path to enriching lives, fostering security and stability, improving public health, driving economic growth, and achieving environmental goals. Countries starving for energy, according to World Development Indicators, struggle economically.
Globally, progress is being made. In 2017, more than 120 million people gained access to electricity for the first time, according to the International Energy Agency, dropping the total number altogether lacking electricity access below 1 billion.
India, for example, continues to make considerable strides. The country completed electrification of all villages earlier this year and is on track to have universal electricity access by the early 2020s, according to IEA data. Similar trends are happening across Asia and, more slowly, in sub-Saharan Africa.
If we’re going to effect change, however, we must pursue economic, public health, and environmental goals simultaneously. Denying developing countries access to clean fossil fuels, such as natural gas, is untenable and morally wrong. Our abundant energy supply can be a “solution” to global energy poverty.
All energy forms come with risk and adoption challenges. What works in Paris will not necessarily be the best solution for Indonesia or Ethiopia. We will make little progress boosting energy access and leave hundreds of millions of people trapped without energy if we force the world’s poor to rely on expensive, intermittent, and unreliable “clean” technologies.
For much of the world, liquefied petroleum gas, a clean-burning, affordable by-product of oil and natural gas production, is driving this progress. In just three years, India has become the world’s second-largest LPG importer, as 181 million households have replaced dirty, inefficient cooking fuels with the clean source. Cameroon and Sudan are seeing significant gains in LPG use, as well.
LPG is an effective solution because it’s transportable, flexible, affordable, and clean-burning. Adoption of clean-burning fuels results in fewer premature deaths related to household air pollution, which kills more annually than malaria and HIV combined, according to the World Health Organization.
U.S. exports of LPG and liquefied natural gas are playing an increasing role in tackling the energy poverty tragedy. While India initially imported LPG from the Middle East, U.S. LPG exports to the country have more than quadrupled over the past three years, according to a Reuters analysis. In fact, the U.S. is the world’s largest LPG exporter, with the bulk of the cargoes flowing to Asia.
We are fortunate to live in an energy-secure, resource-rich nation. America’s energy abundance puts us in a position to be the leader in tackling global energy poverty.
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