February 23, 2024

The growth of global access to electricity slowed in the past three years compared to previous years, according to a recent report published by the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Although electricity access rose to 91 percent in 2021 from 84 percent in 2010, the increase of 114 million per year in 2019-2021 in the number of people with access was fewer than the 129 million per year observed between 2010 and 2019, the report said. Overall, access grew by 0.7 percentage points per year between 2010 and 2019, declining to 0.6 percentage points a year between 2019 and 2021.

The trend shows that the world is not on track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal 7 (SDG7) for energy set by the United Nations (UN), according to the report. Although there has been some progress on specific elements of the SDG7 agenda, such as the increased rate of using renewables in the power sector, the report said that “progress is insufficient” to achieve the goals by the target date of 2030, with 2023 marking the midpoint for implementation.

“Rising commodity, energy, and shipping prices have increased the cost of producing and transporting solar photovoltaics modules, wind turbines, and biofuels worldwide”, according to the UN website describing the status of SDG7 targets. The UN said that achieving the goals would require “continued policy support and a massive mobilization of public and private capital for clean and renewable energy, especially in developing countries”.

Although renewable electricity use in global consumption saw the largest single-year increase since the start of tracking progress, growing from 26.3 percent in 2019 to 28.2 percent in 2020, efforts had to be “scaled up” to substantially increase its share in the total energy mix, the IEA said. Growth in renewables usage is unevenly distributed, and “further action is required in the least developed countries”, the agency said. The share of renewables should reach 33 to 38 percent by 2030, and account for 60 to 65 percent of electricity generation, the IEA recommended.

Another issue highlighted in the report was the decrease in international public financial flows to support clean energy in developing countries. Funding had begun to dip even before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, with financial resources more than a third lower since 2020 than the average of the previous decade, the IEA said. In 2021, these flows amounted to $10.8 billion, an 11 percent drop from 2020, and 35 percent less than the 2010–19 average. As financial flows have contracted for the third year in a row, they have become increasingly concentrated in a small number of countries, the agency said. Multilateral financial institutions should “direct financial flows more equitably around the world to support renewables deployment and related physical infrastructure development”, International Renewable Energy Agency Director-General Francesco La Camera said in the report.

“While the clean energy transition is moving faster than many think, there is still a great deal of work needed to deliver sustainable, secure, and affordable access to modern energy services for the billions of people who live without it. Successful energy transitions rely on effective policies and technological innovation combined with large-scale mobilization of investment capital. The international community must leverage all these tools to meet the Sustainable Development Goals by the end of this decade”, IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said.

Millions Lacking Access

The IEA report showed that 675 million people still lacked access to electricity in 2021, with 567 million living in sub-Saharan Africa, accounting for more than 80 percent of the global population without access. The COVID-19 pandemic and associated energy crisis are estimated to have caused 75 million people to have lost the ability to pay for an extended bundle of electricity services, the report said.

To reach universal access by 2030, the annual rate of growth in electricity access will have to be one percentage point per year from 2021 onward. The acceleration should be concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa, with progress of more than five percentage points a year on average over the next nine years, the report recommended.

Meanwhile, the target to achieve universal access to clean cooking by 2030 remains off track, according to the report, with up to 2.3 billion people still using polluting fuels and technologies for cooking, largely in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. With the ongoing impact of COVID-19 and soaring energy prices, the IEA estimates that 100 million people who recently transitioned to clean cooking may revert to using traditional biomass, and “polluting cooking fuels and technologies will continue to claim millions of lives each year” unless “efforts are rapidly scaled up today”, the agency said.

The report was authored by the IEA, the International Renewable Energy Agency, the United Nations Statistics Division, the World Bank and the World Health Organization.

To contact the author, email rteodoro.editor@outlook.com

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