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Energy Access Challenge

Strategies from the World Bank Group

Electricity access is one of the most important development challenges of the 21st century. A large swath of the world’s population still remains in the dark, relying on kerosene and candles on a daily basis. Access to electricity in flexible, reliable, and sustainable forms brings a range of social and economic benefits by enhancing the quality of household life and stimulating the broader economy. Modern energy is essential for the provision of health care; clean water and sanitation; and reliable and efficient lighting, heating, cooking, mechanical power, transportation, and telecommunications.

There is now unambiguous evidence of the benefits of electricity provision. At a minimum, the quality of electrical lighting (measured in lumens) is many times better than that of kerosene, the most common alternative lighting fuel. In addition, students are able to study for longer hours, instances of respiratory and gastrointestinal diseases are reduced, the safety and security of women is heightened, and women’s role in the household decision-making process is increased.

The Sustainable Energy For All (SE4ALL) was launched in 2012 to organize the efforts of the international community around a common set of energy goals to be achieved by 2030 and universal access to electricity was one of them. The “Global Tracking Framework Report,” prepared under the SE4ALL initiative, presents detailed country-level and global data that outline the scale of the challenges ahead as countries try to meet the three objectives of the SE4ALL initiative by 2030:

  • providing universal access to modern energy
  • doubling the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix
  • doubling the rate of improvement in energy efficiency.

Current and Projected Electricity Access Deficit

The “Global Tracking Framework Report” states that about 1.2 billion people or 17% of the global population lived without access to electricity in 2010. The access deficit is overwhelmingly rural and located in Sub-Saharan Africa and the South Asian regions. In fact, Sub-Saharan Africa alone constitutes half of the access deficit. India is home to the largest nonelectrified population of more than 300 million people, followed far behind by Nigeria and Bangladesh. In fact, the access deficit is localized in a select group of countries. The top 20 countries with the largest nonelectrified population contribute 74% of the total access deficit.

Among the regions, the access rate is lowest in Oceania (where one out of four people has electricity) and Sub-Saharan Africa (where one out of three people has electricity). Electrification rates in urban areas are much greater; only in Oceania and Sub-Saharan Africa do they remain lower than 90%. Comparatively, in rural areas, the challenge is still stark in most of the developing world, except in the Caucasus and Central and East Asia.

Although 1.8 billion people obtained connections to electricity between 1990 and 2010, the rate was only slightly ahead of the population growth of 1.6 billion over the same period. It is also noteworthy that annual growth in access to modern energy has only been around 1% on average. The largest absolute increase in the electrified population was achieved in India, where 24 million people annually gained access since 1990, followed by China and Indonesia.

Looking ahead, the projected access profile in 2030 is alarming. The International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook posits a new policies scenario, in which existing and announced policy commitments are assumed to be implemented and under which the global access deficit for electricity will be cut to about 990 million by 2030. That is still 12% of the expected global population, not far below the 17% today. Sub-Saharan Africa is projected to witness an increase in the nonelectrified population in rural areas. To achieve universal access to electricity by 2030, some 50 million more people will have to gain access each year than projected under this scenario. Getting there will require an additional US$45 billion invested in access every year, five times the current annual level. The carbon cost of such expansion, however, is low: to bring electricity to those without it would increase global carbon dioxide emissions by less than 1%.

World Bank’s Record in Providing Electricity Access

The World Bank’s engagements in client countries in the developing world encompass the entire electricity sector value chain—from generation to transmission and distribution (T&D) to direct connections to consumers, the results of which are summarized and publicly available in the Bank’s corporate scorecard on energy. These indicators—on generation capacity, T&D lines, and people provided with access—provide a cumulative snapshot of results achieved between 2000 and 2013.

World Bank-supported programs (including both closed and active projects) have provided 42 million people with new access to electricity for projects approved between 2000 and 2013, of which 17.5 million people gained access as a direct result of Bank Group financing, while 24 million people are “inferred” to have gained access. Direct access is measured as those who have benefited from new-grid or off-grid household connections. Inferred access numbers count those who benefited from World Bank-funded generation capacity, a proportion of whose output is reasonably estimated to be powering new household connections. Inferred access is a conservative estimate of the new connections that could have been supplied as a result of power generation projects supported by the World Bank.

A handful of countries were responsible for the bulk of the results. In Bangladesh, sustained Bank engagement in both rural-grid and off-grid solar home systems resulted in 9.7 million people gaining direct access. In Cambodia, Kenya, Mali, and Rwanda, a total of more than 5 million people gained direct access to electricity through Bank-supported projects. In the remaining countries, the scale of engagement was smaller, providing electrification to a total of 2.7 million people.

Inferred access was provided in 26 projects spanning 19 countries with low rates of access to electricity—mostly in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. In South Asia, Bank-supported generating capacity was estimated to have opened access to electricity for 15.2 million people and 12.1 million of them are in India. The Bank’s generation capacity expansion could have contributed to electrify 9.2 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa. The Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda led the way, with new generating capacity inferred to have offered connections to 3.4 million and 1.3 million people, respectively.

A New Way of Thinking About Access to Electricity

Measuring energy access is a complex task as multidimensional issues need to be taken into consideration. Currently available binary metrics are convenient, but they fail to capture important aspects of the problem, such as multiple access solutions, supply problems, and a differentiation between access to electricity supply versus electricity services. A multitier metric proposed in “Global Tracking Framework Report” addresses these definitional and measurement issues.

This framework consists of two distinct yet intertwined electricity measurements: access to electricity supply and the use of electricity services. The framework is technology neutral and accommodates grid, mini-grid, and off-grid solutions to reflect a wide range of electricity access levels. The first metric—access to electricity supply—is based on increasing levels of attributes across tiers, covering:

  • quantity (peak available capacity)
  • duration
  • evening supply
  • affordability
  • legality
  • quality.

A progression along this hierarchy of tiers is projected as more and more electricity services become feasible and available.

The second metric—access to electricity services—is based on ownership of appliances that requires an increasing level of electricity supply to use them. This distinction between supply and use highlights the fact that a higher level of electricity supply does not automatically result in greater access to electricity services. Likewise, poor electricity supply does not constrain affluent households from gaining access to energy services through backup solutions such as generators and inverters.

The multitier metric is the way ahead to track energy access status across countries and over time. It provides nuanced information on different dimensions of energy supply that could better inform policy formulation, investment planning, and project design. It also shows how to evaluate the contribution of any energy project in improving attributes of energy. Finally, it allows countries to set their own targets to reach universal access by 2030.

To apply this framework, the World Bank is leading an effort to conduct household surveys using standardized household energy questionnaires, whose purpose is to arrive at a diagnostic assessment of the energy situation in selected areas.

A Multistakeholder Effort to Achieve Universal Access

The World Bank Group has supported energy access initiatives through lending (including grants), technical assistance activities, and making global expertise available to its clients. A development institution such as the World Bank can support only a handful of programs. This transformative process will require ambitious action by numerous stakeholders including governments, the private sector, nongovernmental organizations, and civil society organizations that, together, aim to achieve universal access by 2030.

While daunting, this challenge is also an opportunity to unleash innovation in both public and private sectors to expand access and make service available in an affordable, reliable, sustainable manner to the world’s millions of unserved people. There are new and tested ways that can be adopted and customized to move this agenda forward. The World Bank Group is contributing not only financially but also by sharing lessons from its experience. It is supporting demonstration projects, as well as making its convening power available to build consensus on how best to tackle this complex task and achieve universal access to electricity by 2030.

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