Every practitioner wants to install a energy scheme that is sustainable and wants that energy to be used efficiently, rationally and productively. A number of different approaches, tools and guidelines have been developed over time to facilitate this.

The energy team in Practical Action Latin America began to use the description ‘energy literacy’ back in the early 2000s in our project in rural Latin America called “Sustainable energy options for poor isolated communities in Latin America.” This work was building the capacity of rural and isolated communities in Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador, to understand, assess and articulate their energy needs. It involved providing information on energy options and issues to rural communities to help them make appropriate energy choices.

Right at the start we realised that people in those communities had no idea what we were talking about, when we used the terms “renewable energy” or “sustainable energy.” They could hardly identify electricity and had no understanding of the terms “efficient cooking” or “clean cooking.” We realised that to get their attention we needed to provide very simple information and simple explanations with practical, visual examples.

Our objective was that when we left the communities, local people understood the basics: Energy sources, small scale renewable energy technologies, micro hydropower, solar PV, micro wind systems, tariffs, reasons for tariffs, life span of the energy systems; they could also recognise the difference between grid and off-grid electricity and others. We applied the term “energy literacy” to this process of providing simple information to communities with little or no knowledge on energy

Once people know the basics about energy and understand that implementation costs are high and that every energy scheme requires operation and maintenance, they become more responsible for these aspects their energy generation system as well as its replacement when it ends its life span. And this makes a vital contribution to its sustainability.

We also learned from this project that, “energy literate people” can assess their needs and can engage more effectively with local and regional authorities and demand their needs in a more organised and coherent manner. Several communities who benefited from that project with “energy literacy”, they had been able to fine tune their demands and already have energy access.

I’d be interested to hear what you think about the concept of energy literacy. Could it be useful and how could it contribute to the sustainability of off-grid systems?

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