Energy Poverty is a worldwide issue. Roughly one in three people live without basic energy services (Greenpeace, 2001). Although there are methods to replace these energy needs, they are not reliable and have a number of negative impacts on the individual, the community, and the environment. These makeshift methods include paraffin lamps, candles, and wood; all of which can damage one’s health, perpetuate the poverty cycle, and contribute to environmental destruction (Greenpeace, 2001). This challenge is affecting developing communities worldwide, including the low income communities in Cape Town, South Africa. There are three aspects of home life directly affected by energy poverty: heating, lighting, and cooking. Lack of clean heating methods can cause health problems, like respiratory infections, from the paraffin’s smoke (Muller, Diab, Binedell, & Hounsome, 2003). Inadequate lighting in the community decreases safety at night, prevents work from being done indoors, and decreases the number of active hours each day. The favored method of indoor stoves lack ventilation, cause pollutants to accumulate in the small room, increasing chances of diseases and mortality (Gall, Carter, Earnest, & Stephens, 2013). These home energy problems not only cause health and social issues, but also prevents the people from rising out of poverty.

Low income community members spend about a quarter of their income on energy needs. Cooking, in particular, is very costly. It is time-consuming requiring large amounts of energy. Paraffin, the main source of energy for cooking in communities in Cape Town, alone ranges between 1.8% to 4.6% of a household’s income (Durban, 2014). This is an opportunity to provide alternative energy products. A market of energy efficient cooking products would save community members money on energy and provide safer methods of cooking.

Organizations are working to increase access to quality and affordable energy products to improve the livelihood of those in low income communities. The Low Income Energy Services Task Team (LIESTT) was created to begin collaboration and comprehensive evaluation to bring all the initiatives together. Right now, there is little correspondence and some repetition in Cape Town, so the team wants to coordinate programs to ensure key energy service areas are covered and to develop a business network. The task team’s work is one essential step in filling the distribution gap; distribution centers must be created and have capital sources to be successful.

The current distribution methods of products do not allow for a sustainable cycle to form. Donations and trainings are beneficial since they provide the community with the products; however, once the product is successfully implemented and the outside organizations leave the community, the work to improve livelihoods stays at a standstill. The Office of Sustainable Livelihoods (OSL), our sponsor, is working to create a new strategy that will bring energy services to low income communities in a continuous way. From their experience and research, local distribution centers may be the missing player to make distribution sustainable. These centers will provide a connection between the outside organization and community by providing energy efficient products. With this being an innovative idea, there are many unknown factors. The first being the interest of established places to act as distribution centers and the ability for them be successful. If there is no motivation for them to assume this role, the method does not work. Another factor would be the finances. Since selling alternative energy products requires capital, a supplier needs to be able to provide products on consignment. Additionally, distribution centers need to have enough financial stability to offer payment plans to customers. This is a benefit of having a distribution center that is also an established place. Since this strategy is new, connecting different aspects of different efforts and pieces that have not been put together, may form the answers needed to address this distribution gap that prevents a sustainable energy distribution cycle.

Groups like LIESTT and OSL are laying the foundation for a sustainable distribution system development in Cape Town through a network of initiatives and methods of funding. However, the connections between all the organizations need to be developed as a support system for the community members. We will work to connect the non-government organizations (NGOs), suppliers, and distribution centers, so they can provide for the rest of the community. With each distribution center we work with, we will choose a financial model that is feasible and sustainable for implementation in the low income communities. While the organizations currently working are making substantial steps to fill the distribution gap, our work will be crucial to supporting distribution centers to develop a sustainable distribution system of energy products to improve community livelihoods.

 Continue to Issues Caused From Energy Practices in Informal Settlements