There is a range of different ways in which energy poverty is defined. Definitions also depend on the context. In general when reviewing a range of views, energy poverty can be defined as a lack of access to modern energy services. It also refers to the situation where people are unable to afford modern energy services for basic needs such as cooking, heating and lighting (Practical Action, 2015) and are resorting to more pollution and unhealthy forms of energy. Some also refer particularly to those at or under the poverty line as they represent the portion of the population with little or inadequate resources which often also spend a larger part of their income on energy (Energypedia, 2015). In addition, the main use of energy in developing contexts is for cooking, heating and lighting (IEA, 2006).


This indicator uses a number of energy related variables to identify areas that experience energy poverty.

Insights & Findings

Combining these enabled the selection of sub-places that is seen to contain not a majority but a proportion of the poorer population using forms of energy not considered clean. There might be various reasons for not using electricity which could include:

  • Not having access to electrical infrastructure
  • Not being able to afford electricity (even if it is available) and afford the appliances that use electricity (COCT, 2011:44)
  • Reliance on solid fuels driven by its convenience, portability and ease of access.

Energy poor areas are not highly prevalent in the nine cities. It does occur and can be found in parts of township areas (new settled areas without infrastructure). Apart from this it appears to also occur on the outside fringes of built-up areas.


To develop this measure to indicate energy poverty, several items had to be taken into account. These included the following:

  • Low income population – As energy poverty is normally associated with low income households or households in poverty this was the first item to be considered. Using the 2011 census all households earning less than R76400 per year was selected. Although the poverty line is lower than this level it falls into the income category R38201-R76400
  • Households using Gas, Paraffin, Wood, Coal and animal dung for cooking
  • Households using Gas, Paraffin, Wood, Coal and animal dung for heating
  • Households using Gas, Paraffin, Candles for lighting
  • Also considering density of households per Ha – to leave out areas with little or no households given that the focus should be on settlements and communities.

In addition these areas can be contrasted by identifying areas with a predominant electricity use. These represent the predominant use of electricity by households.

The metadata document can be accessed here.

Other Resources

  • CSIR BE. 2015. Indicator – Energy poverty 2011. (Prepared in support of SACN – State of the Cities Report 2015).
  • COCT see City of Cape Town
  • City of Cape Town. 2011. Smart living handbook – Energy in your home. Fourth edition. Cape Town.
  • Energypedia. 2015. Energy poverty (Source from https://energypedia.info/wiki/Energy_Poverty on 7 July 2015)
  • IEA see International Energy Agency
  • International Energy Agency. 2006. World Energy Outlook – energy for cooking in developing countries. Paris.
  • Practical Action. 2015. Energy poverty (sourced from http://practicalaction.org/energy-poverty-the-hidden-crisis-1 on 7 July 2015)

For more information contact:

Johan Maritz,

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