World Energy Outlook 2012 highlights gains and scale of the remaining challenge in combating energy poverty

27 November 2012

Women in Madagascar preparing to use wood as their primary energy source. Sub-Saharan Africa scores lowest on the WEO 2012's Energy Development Index.

A global energy outlook cannot just talk about rich countries and ignore the other end of the spectrum. This is why, for more than a decade, the World Energy Outlook (WEO) has published data and analysis on modern energy access for the poor. Today, it does so again.

WEO 2012 finds that, despite progress in the past year, nearly 1.3 billion people have no access to electricity while 2.6 billion must use traditional fuels (such as wood, charcoal, tree leaves, crop residues and animal waste) to cook their food, breathing in noxious smoke as they do so. Ten countries – four in developing Asia and six in sub-Saharan Africa – account for two-thirds of those people without electricity and more than half of the people without clean cooking facilities live in just three countries: India, China and Bangladesh.

Looking forward, the WEO’s central scenario, the New Policies Scenario, projects that in 2030, unless further action is taken, close to 1 billion people will be without electricity and 2.6 billion people will still lack clean cooking facilities. But the story varies by region. For electricity, the number of people in developing Asia without access in 2030 will be almost half the figure for 2010 (led by progress in India) while Latin America will already have universal access. But in sub-Saharan Africa, a worsening trend persists until around 2025. For cooking, developing Asia sees a significant improvement (led by China), but the number of people without clean cooking facilities in India alone in 2030 will be twice the population of the United States today. In sub-Saharan Africa the picture worsens by about a quarter by 2030.

The WEO praises the vital role that the UN Secretary General’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative has played in raising awareness of the need to increase modern energy access. But as of the Rio+20 Summit in June 2012, energy-access funding commitments it had received were well short of the nearly $1 trillion in cumulative investment the WEO estimates is needed to achieve universal access by 2030 – one of the initiative’s stated goals.

WEO 2012 finds that achieving modern energy access for all does not magnify the challenges of energy security or climate change, as universal access in 2030 would increase global energy demand by only 1% and CO2 emissions by 0.6%.

This year the WEO pays special attention to tracking a country’s energy development over time. Such tracking will be essential for the Sustainable Energy for All initiative. WEO 2012’s enhanced and expanded Energy Development Index (EDI) measures energy development at household and community level for each of 80 countries. This composite index includes relevant indicators relating to household access to electricity and clean cooking facilities and to the use of modern energy for productive purposes (such as mechanical power) and public services (such as schools and hospitals). The EDI can be split by indicator and shown over time, helping a range of decision makers to track progress in important elements of individual countries’ energy development.

The EDI for 2012 reveals an overall improvement in recent years, led by gains in China, Thailand, El Salvador, Argentina, Uruguay, Vietnam and Algeria. But the EDI for a number of countries remains stubbornly low and sub-Saharan Africa scores least well as a region, with countries there dominating the lower half of the rankings.

The World Energy Outlook on Modern energy for all: why it matters

The World Energy Outlook on Energy for all: financing access for the poor

The World Energy Outlook's previous energy access publications

The World Energy Outlook's energy access databases


Photo by World Resources Institute Staff