When measuring energy poverty, the best and latest data come from the IEA

18% of global population lack access to electricity, despite modest improvements, and 38% lack clean cooking facilities

7 March 2014

2014 marks the start of the United Nations Decade of Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL), the international effort to bring modern and sustainable energy to everyone on the planet. IEA data collected over more than a decade have been vital to the push already, establishing the size of the problem and helping determine the resources necessary to allow every woman, man and child to benefit from the security and convenience that most already take for granted.

In the latest edition of its annual flagship publication, World Energy Outlook (WEO), the IEA provides the most recent estimate: nearly 1.3 billion people, or 18% of the world population, lacked access to electricity in 2011. While the number of those without electricity declined by 9 million from the previous year, the global population increased by about 76 million in 2011, according to the United Nations estimates, to top 7 billion.

And the modest decline in those lacking electricity obscured the fact that energy poverty either stagnated or worsened in some countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, as population growth outpaced energy access efforts. More than 95% of people without access to electricity live in sub-Saharan Africa or developing Asia. Over two-thirds of the population in sub-Saharan Africa had no modern energy in 2011, and the number of people without electricity access there will soon overtake the total in developing Asia. Among the far more numerous people in developing Asia, 17% did not have access to electricity in 2011.

As a special focus within its World Energy Outlook 2014 series, the IEA is conducting its most comprehensive analytical study to date of the energy outlook for Africa. Among other topics, the report will examine which policies, investments and infrastructure are required to expand access to reliable and affordable electricity supply on the continent.

Modern energy: vital to many development goals

The new push by the United Nations for universal access is part of the growing recognition, highlighted in the WEO, that modern energy is crucial to achieving a range of social and economic goals relating to poverty, health, education, equality and environmental sustainability. About 80 developing countries have signed up to the SE4All initiative, including many with the largest populations of those lacking access to modern energy. In addition, IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven is among the leaders who serve on the Advisory Board to the SE4All initiative.

The IEA joined with the World Bank to lead a project to create the Global Tracking Framework last year. That tool calculates the starting point to benchmark SE4All progress towards its 2030 objectives of achieving universal access to modern energy services while also doubling both the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency and the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix. The Global Tracking Framework published 2010 data for all of these objectives and has helped decision makers fully appreciate the scale of action that needs to be taken to meet the 2030 goals.

The latest WEO includes more recent and detailed data, highlighting areas of improvement. More people gained access to electricity in Bangladesh, Cameroon, Ghana, Indonesia, Mozambique, South Africa and Sri Lanka in 2011. India remained the country with the largest number of people without access to electricity, at 306 million, or a quarter of the population.

The previous edition of the WEO found that nearly USD 1 trillion in cumulative investment would bring universal access by 2030. That equates to USD 49 billion a year – or about five times what was being invested in 2009.

Under its central projections, the WEO shows a decline of more than 20% in the number of people without access to electricity by 2030, but that would still leave 12% of the world population without modern energy. The projections see the total number of people without electricity in 2030 falling by nearly half in developing Asia, to 324 million. But it will rise by 8% in sub-Saharan Africa, to 645 million.

The best news is that the current trajectory is expected to result in universal access in China, Latin America and the Middle East by 2030. Brazil, with its successful “Luz para Todos” (Light for All) programme, expects full access within a few years. Besides continued economic growth and urbanisation, which are general trends that support efforts to improve electricity access in emerging countries, there are specific programmes like the Power Africa initiative, which channel financing and technical expertise to assist national electrification plans.

Clean cooking and heating facilities

Access to electricity is not the only focus of IEA analysis of energy poverty. The WEO tracks the number of people who do not have clean cooking facilities, a far larger share of the global population at 38%. These 2.6 billion people rely on traditional biomass, usually wood, and their ranks increased by 54 million in 2011, as population growth outstripped improvements in providing better equipment. A further 200 million to 300 million people rely on coal for household cooking and heating.  Recent studies find that the household pollution from use of solid fuels kills 3.5 million people each year, and 4 million when the pollution’s effect on outdoor air is considered.

The WEO central projections see less of an improvement by 2030 in both the number and share of people cooking and heating with traditional biomass compared with those connecting to modern energy. The number without clean cooking facilities will shrink by less than 120 million people, to 30% of the population. While nearly 200 million Chinese will stop using traditional biomass, almost the same number more will be using it in sub-Saharan Africa.

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