Universal electricity access by 2030 remains a distant dream


While populous nations including India, Bangladesh, Indonesia and the Philippines are on track to be able to celebrate universal electricity access this decade, setbacks across sub-Saharan Africa are set to ensure the global ambition embodied in the United Nations' seventh sustainable development goal will remain unfulfilled.

A report by five international NGOs into the progress of the various aspects of sustainable development goal (SDG) seven has warned efforts will have to be ramped up to achieve global access to electricity for all, and the universal availability of clean cooking facilities appears an even more unrealistic ambition.

The economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic across the world's poorest nations has seen up to 30 million people in sub-Saharan Africa lose access to electricity because they can no longer afford it, according to the authors of the latest edition of the Tracking SDG7 report.

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The study – published on Monday by the International Energy Agency (IEA), International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), World Bank, World Health Organization and the UN‘s Statistics Division – said the electricity access rate across sub-Saharan Africa will have to more than double, to 85 million people per year this decade, to provide power to an estimated 940 million by 2030 and ensure no-one is without electricity.

Solar plays a central role in hitting the SDG7 ambition, with IRENA noting 11 million people had access to renewables mini-grids in 2019 and global trade body GOGLA – formerly the Global Off-Grid Lighting Association – having reported 105 million people had access to non-grid solar devices, 49% of them in sub-Saharan Africa and 29% in South Asia.

With SDG7 also requiring the electrification effort to contribute to global renewables deployment and energy efficiency gains, the annual study for the first time included a survey of the flows of public money into developing nations for the development of clean energy.

Capital flows

Some $14 billion was supplied to developing nations in 2018 in the form of grants, loans, equity investments and risk mitigation instruments, such as financial guarantees, with the figure having fallen from the record $21.9 billion of public funds reported in 2017. Of the $14 billion figure for 2018, the report stated, only $2.8 billion went to the world's 46 least developed countries.

The continuing renewables dominance of hydropower – despite the advances made by solar and wind in the last decade – was demonstrated by the fact the annual fall in public funding was largely accounted for by a 61% reduction in hydro-linked finance, itself mostly related to the $5.2 billion allocated to the Mambilla hydro project in Nigeria in 2017.

With public funding for clean power increasingly aiming to trigger private investment, the document's authors noted public money is moving towards non-generation uses, such as green bonds and battery and grid spending, reflecting an attitude renewables project backing can be left to private entities.

In terms of where the money was spent in 2018, east and Southeast Asia was the only region to see an annual uplift, from $1.8 billion to $2.5 billion, mainly thanks to geothermal investment in Indonesia, the Philippines and China.

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Solar and wind spending in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh has seen central and South Asia attract the most backing from 2010-18 but a fall in hydro support – from $2.2 billion in 2017 to $492 million in 2018 – saw overall renewables funding fall from $4.3 billion to $3.1 billion.

Significant investment in Latin American and Caribbean solar over a decade made way for supporting infrastructure spending in the region, as its overall figure more than halved, from $4.7 billion to $2.3 billion.

With the $122 million Trina River hydro project in the Solomon Islands having swelled developing-nation renewables investment in Oceania to a record $323 million in 2017, the figure retreated to $79 million the following year, and Africa also witnessed falls, with its sub-Saharan region falling back from $7.8 billion to $3.7 billion, mainly thanks to that Mambilla project's effect on the comparison. The $708 million Noor Mid Elt I solar hybrid project in Morocco in 2018 failed to stem a reverse in funding in the west Asia and North Africa region, from $3 billion in 2017 to $2.3 billion a year later.

New donors

The 230-page SDG7 update, which cites pv magazine among its references, said 14 of the 56 donor entities that supplied public money for renewables in developing nations in 2018 accounted for 80% of the finance offered, with the governments of Hungary and former recipient Turkey on board for the first time that year.

The German government was the most generous donor, with $2.1 billion of investment, ahead of the Export-Import Bank of China – which supplied most of a near $100 million for solar projects in Nigeria among its $1.8 billion 2018 figure – the International Finance Corp private-sector arm of the World Bank ($1.4 billion), and the Asian Development Bank ($900 million).

Those figures, however, are far short of the $1.4 trillion per year total investment the IEA estimated is required for energy spending from 2019 to 2030, to hit the SDG7 targets. The Paris-based NGO has said $30 billion per year will be required for electricity access, plus $5 billion for clean cooking provision. Some $550 billion per year should be spent on clean power generation and $495 billion annually on energy efficiency, the IEA has estimated, along with $150 billion per year on grid and infrastructure and $140 billion on ‘end-use renewables,' such as heat pumps.


IRENA's number-crunchers have called for $60 trillion to be spent transforming the global energy system from 2016-30, including more than $11 trillion worth of fossil fuels and nuclear. The Abu Dhabi-headquartered body has said $29 trillion will be needed for energy efficiency, $9 trillion for clean power generation, $8 trillion for grid upgrades and $2 trillion for ‘renewables direct use and supply', including hydrogen.

The NGO has called for $10 trillion of that total $60 trillion figure to be diverted from fossil fuel budgets into low carbon spending and has said the current post-Covid recovery phase – up to 2023 – will have to bring the first $2 trillion installment.

With the SDG7 report indicating steep shortfalls in the required rate of energy efficiency improvements and the electrification of heating and transport, the clean cooking outlook appears to be furthest from its United Nations ambition. The study said half of the world's 20 nations with the lowest proportion of access to clean cooking for their population were in sub-Saharan Africa, with only one in every 100 Madagascans and Ugandans able to use such facilities.

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