Universal energy access by 2030 is now within reach thanks to growing political will and falling costs
A new and detailed analysis from the International Energy Agency finds that the most cost-effective strategy for providing universal access to electricity and clean-cooking facilities in developing countries is compatible with meeting global climate goals, and prevents millions of premature deaths each year. It would also benefit women the most, as it would free up billions of hours currently lost to gathering fuelwood.
The findings are a positive sign that universal energy access is within reach for billions lacking basic energy services. The new report, Energy Access Outlook: from Poverty to Prosperity, part of the World Energy Outlook-2017 series, provides a first-of-its-kind historical analysis for 140 countries and shows that the number of people without access to electricity fell to 1.1 billion in 2016, down from 1.6 billion in 2000.
Developing countries in Asia are making significant progress. Many countries in the region are well on track to reach universal energy access by 2030, while India is on course to reach that goal by the early 2020s. Despite this progress, 674 million are set to remain without electricity access in 2030, 90% of which live in sub-Saharan Africa.
“The good news is that a convergence of political will and cost reductions is accelerating progress,” said Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director. “Just look at India, which has provided electricity access to half a billion people since 2000. The government’s tremendous efforts over the last several years have put it on track to achieve one of the biggest success stories ever in electrification.”
While fossil fuels, mainly coal, have been the primary new sources for electricity access since 2000, renewables are catching up quickly, providing more than a third of new connections in the last five years. This shift is expected to accelerate in coming years, and by 2030 renewables are set to provide new electricity access for three-in-five people, according to the analysis.
The report also presents a strategy for achieving universal energy access, one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted in 2015 by 193 countries to ensure universal access to affordable, reliable and modern energy services by 2030. The report highlights the associated costs and benefits of such a strategy, underscoring the central role of energy in meeting human and economic development goals.
Unlike electricity, improved access to clean cooking facilities remains elusive. Today, 2.8 billion people still rely on biomass, coal and kerosene for cooking, roughly the same number as in 2000. Despite an increasing awareness of the health, human and environmental costs associated with these fuels, 2.3 billion people remain without clean cooking access in 2030, with 2.5 million people dying prematurely each year as result of household air pollution.
The report presents an “Energy for All” case showing that providing universal access by 2030 would require an investment of USD 31 billion per year, equivalent to less than 2% of global energy investment. The overwhelming majority of this extra investment would need to be directed to sub-Saharan Africa, and most of it to renewables. The investment required for clean cooking facilities, including liquefied petroleum gas, is modest and amounts to less than one-tenth of the total.
There are many benefits to achieving energy for all. Women will save one hour per day when they do not need to collect fuelwood, freeing up the equivalent of a workforce of 80 million people, while reduced household air pollution will prevent 1.8 million premature deaths per year.
It would also not cause a net increase in global greenhouse gas emissions. While energy demand and related CO2 emissions would increase by minimal levels (about 0.2%), this would be more than offset by net reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions that result from lower use of biomass for cooking.
“The goals of meeting energy access for all, reducing air pollution and meeting global climate targets go hand in hand,” said Dr Birol. “Energy for all is achievable and our ambitious strategy shows how countries can build on existing policy and technology success stories to accelerate access at the lowest cost.”
“But to achieve the same results as we have with electricity, policy-makers must also place clean cooking at the top of their agenda,” said Dr Birol. “With its years of experience on energy and development analysis, and its robust energy policy and technology expertise, the IEA is ready to support governments in Africa, Asia and elsewhere meet these goals.”