''Taken from www.energyfordevelopment.com
Posted by Douglas F. Barnes''

The existence of energy poverty today is quite well accepted around the world. In fact alleviating energy poverty is a goal of many development organizations that deal with energy issues for developing countries. However, when it comes to defining energy poverty these organizations assume the position that many take in appreciating good art--"they know it when they see it." There is much talk about energy poverty but not much action in terms of measuring it.

There is a good reason the people avoid defining energy poverty. It just is very thorny to define. There even was a time not too long ago that development specialists refrained from using the term. One can ask several different questions concerning the definition of energy poverty. Is energy poverty the same as income poverty? Is energy poverty based on access to energy services such as cooking, communications or lighting? Or is it based on quantities of energy that people use? These questions have generated several different approaches to measuring energy poverty.

We have been working on ways to do this for about two or three years and there will be some papers coming out shortly. However, in the meantime we review some of the issues surrounding the topic. There are several different approaches to define energy poverty and they can be classified as follows and are explained below.
  • Minimum amount of physical energy necessary for basic needs such as cooking and lighting;
  • Type and amount of energy that is used for those at the poverty line;
  • Households that spend more than a certain percent of their expenditure on energy;
  • The income point below which energy use and or expenditures remains the same, implying this is the bare minimum energy needs.

Each one of these approaches has strengths and weaknesses. The first way of defining energy poverty has its roots in defining poverty as a minimum amount of food intake necessary to sustain a health life. This is a very common approach often used by international food agencies. Translating this method to energy, there also must be a minimum amount of energy necessary to cook, light and heat someone’s home. Although this might be true, pinning down the exact minimum level of energy necessary based on basis needs is very difficult due to the significant country and regional differences in cooking practices and heating requirements. We know the caloric levels that are necessary to sustain a healthy life, but pinning down the minimum energy needs is much more difficult to accomplish.

Read more on these approaches here