Energy efficiency programs provide multiple benefits that align with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, including economic opportunity, improved health, gender equity, and better environmental and climate-related outcomes. However, energy efficiency remains an underused resource in developing countries, where citizens have limited access to power, utilities often struggle to keep up with demand, and financial capital for improving quality of service is scarce.
A new report from the USAID-NREL Partnership outlines best practices drawn from developed countries for implementing energy efficiency programs in low-income households and discusses opportunities for applying these concepts globally. The free, downloadable report, Advancing Energy Efficiency in Developing Countries: Lessons Learned from Low-Income Residential Experiences in Industrialized Countries, informs each stage of the program development process with a focus on urban environments that are already electrified.
In industrialized countries, low-income households typically shoulder energy burdens, defined as the percentage of income devoted to energy bills, at a rate three times higher than wealthier households. As a result, these households often face trade-offs between paying energy bills and forgoing heat, medicine, food, or other basic needs.
The United States and other member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries have addressed these competing needs through a variety of approaches that fall under two broad umbrellas. One method provides low-income customers with bill assistance through electricity subsidies. Another approach provides long-term reductions in customer energy bills through energy efficiency investments.
Developing countries that are deciding how and where to start implementing programs now have a resource to provide experience-based guidance. The report includes nine sections designed to answer key questions associated with assessing energy efficiency needs, then designing, implementing, and evaluating programs. This informed approach can help jump-start institutional capacity and build confidence for deeper and broader impacts.
The report authors state, “Although energy efficiency faces barriers even in the most favorable environments, the time to consider energy efficiency programs for low-income households might never be stronger.”
By spreading best practices and experiences globally, the USAID-NREL Partnership is empowering local communities to make significant impacts on the lives of individual families, particularly among low-income households. For more information, visit the USAID-NREL website.
Alexandra Aznar is a project leader at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colorado. She works on clean energy policies and provides solar technical assistance to local, state, and national-level policymakers. She leads the implementation of the USAID Distributed PV Toolkit. She holds a Masters of Public Affairs (M.P.A) with a concentration on energy and climate change policy from Indiana University and a B.A. in Government from Claremont McKenna College.
Alexis Powers is a senior web project manager in NREL's Communications & Public Affairs Office. She holds a B.S. in Earth and Ocean Sciences from Duke University and an Advanced Social Media Strategy certification from Syracuse University.