Defining energy access

There is no single internationally-accepted and internationally-adopted definition of modern energy access.

Yet significant commonality exists across definitions, including:

  • Household access to a minimum level of electricity
  • Household access to safer and more sustainable (i.e. minimum harmful effects on health and the environment as possible) cooking and heating fuels and stoves
  • Access to modern energy that enables productive economic activity, e.g. mechanical power for agriculture, textile and other industries
  • Access to modern energy for public services, e.g. electricity for health facilities, schools and street lighting

All of these elements are crucial to economic and social development, as are a number of related issues that are sometimes referred to collectively as "quality of supply", such as technical availability, adequacy, reliability, convenience, safety and affordability. 

The data and projections presented in the World Energy Outlook focus on two elements of energy access: a household having access to electricity and to clean cooking facilities. The IEA defines energy access as "a household having reliable and affordable access to both clean cooking facilities and to electricity, which is enough to supply a basic bundle of energy services initially, and then an increasing level of electricity over time to reach the regional average".  This energy access definition serves as a benchmark to measure progress towards goal SDG 7.1 and as a metric for our forward-looking analysis.

Electricity access entails a household having initial access to sufficient electricity to power a basic bundle of energy services – at a minimum, several lightbulbs, task lighting (such as a flashlight), phone charging and a radio – with the level of service capable of growing over time. In our projections, the average household who has gained access has enough electricity to power four lightbulbs operating at five hours per day, one refrigerator, a fan operating 6 hours per day, a mobile phone charger and a television operating 4 hours per day, which equates to an annual electricity consumption of 1 250 kWh per household with standard appliances, and 420 kWh with efficient appliances. This service-level definition cannot be applied to the measurement of actual data simply because the level of data required does not exist in a large number of cases. As a result, our electricity access databases focus on a simpler binary measure of those that have a connection to an electricity grid, or have a renewable off- or mini-grid connection of sufficient capacity to deliver the minimum bundle of energy services mentioned above.

Access to clean cooking facilities means access to (and primary use of) modern fuels and technologies, including natural gas, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), electricity and biogas, or improved biomass cookstoves (ICS) that have considerably lower emissions and higher efficiencies than traditional three-stone fires for cooking. Currently, very few ICS models attain this lower emissions target, particularly under real-world cooking conditions. Therefore, our clean cooking access database refers to households that rely primarily on fuels other than biomass (such as fuelwood, charcoal, tree leaves, crop residues and animal dung), coal or kerosene for cooking. The main sources are the World Health Organisation (WHO) Household Energy Database and the IEA Energy Balances.

Download the full methodology: Energy Access Outlook 2017 - Defining and modelling energy access

Our work on Energy access