By Esther Githinji, Advocate of the High Court of Kenya

Energy systems are vital to national economies and human security. The access to energy system is of great importance in global development and particularly in Africa. Efforts have been made to enable energy access but there is a prerequisite to meet growing energy demand and reduce the global carbon footprint. These concerns form a complementarity referred to as the energy trilemma.

What is the meaning of a trilemma? A trilemma is explained as a choice between three unfavorable options also known as the ‘impossible trinity’. Energy trilemma is a term mostly used to describe a balance that sees the achievement of three dimensions; energy security, energy equity and environmental sustainability.

  1. Energy security

Energy security is a concern over whether there will be sufficient resources to meet the world’s energy requirement in the years ahead. All definitions of energy security contain notions of availability, sufficiency, affordability, welfare, energy products and interruptions.

Energy security is discussed at different levels such as household, community and importantly individual countries. Nations have a historic responsibility for energy security, national energy, energy systems and policy intervention. National energy security is defined as protection from disruptions of energy systems that can jeopardize nationally vital energy services.

2. Energy equity

Energy equity evaluates the accessibility and affordability of energy in a region. Further, energy equity helps in the measuring of an energy policy’s socio- economic impacts. The issue of energy access is gaining momentum as it is critical in enabling people to meet their essential needs. The access to energy should also be coupled with affordability.

3. Environmental sustainability

There is a growing concern on the expandable use of natural resources due to the current consumption and production pattern. Sustainability is used to emphasis the meeting of the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their need.

Environmental sustainability is explained as the meeting of resources and services needs of the current and future generations without compromising the health of the ecosystems. The society should satisfy it needs and not exceed the capacity of supporting its ecosystem to continue to regenerate what is necessary to meet those needs.

The interplay of the three dimensions is portrayed where growth of the economy can increase the energy intensity and subsequently impend energy security through unmanaged demand and intend affect sustainability.

Discussions on fulfilling the energy trilemma

Achieving energy trilemma has challenges. Each country faces unique and complex energy challenges. The progression across the dimensions of the energy trilemma remains slow due to lack of good governance, geographies and poor economies. Energy leaders have advocated for the creation of a sustainable policy framework to ensure research and investment in sustainable energy systems.

There have been discussions around the possibility of fulfilling the three dimensions. The following are some of the topics where energy trilemma is argued:

  1. Renewable energy

Renewable energy has been championed by many African countries in their attempt to further the energy trilemma. Renewable sources of energy assure mitigation of environmental sustainability concerns, enhance energy security and promote energy equity. However, there are deterrents such as uneven distribution of economic opportunities, tax incentives, inefficient renewable energy policies.

The question is whether the renewable energy sources will adopt to provide accessible and reliable power due to the growing demand and balancing between the energy demand needs of a growing population and the need to conserve the environment.

2. Energy poverty

Energy poverty in Africa is another weighty hindrance to the energy trilemma. Energy poverty is entangled to environmental sustainability and energy security. The difficulty in affordability of energy makes energy equity unattainable. To cure energy poverty, energy security and economic forces take precedence over environmental sustainability and energy equity. Proving the importance of examining energy governance.

Efforts to promote energy access should be ambitious to also provide quality and quantity of energy that addresses the needs, expectations and aspirations of the energy poor at every level.

Way forward 

To meet the UN Sustainable Energy for All objectives of we will need to scale up our efforts. This can be through:

  1. Giving a greater focus on geographies, energy technologies and services which have shed light on the challenges embodied in the energy trilemma.
  2. Allowing those affected by the lack of energy equity which involves delivering sustainable energy to meet needs for all, to participate in well designed decision making processes.
  3. Creating policies that encourage good governance, have an accountability mechanism and develop methodology to monitor and evaluate the energy trilemma.
Esther Githinji
Esther Githinji

Esther Githinji is an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya based in Nairobi, Kenya with a passion in renewable energy. She is a graduate from the University of Nairobi with a Bachelor in Laws. During her undergraduate studies she specialised in energy law and environmental law.


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