For the first time in 20 years, the IEA reports that the number of people around the world who live without electricity is set to rise by nearly 20 million in 2022, reaching nearly 775 million. The rise is mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, where the number of people without access is nearly back to its 2013 peak. This has been driven by the compounded impacts of the pandemic, inflation, and the global energy crises.
Based on current policies, investment trends and announcements, this number will not be dramatically reduced. The IEA’s World Energy Outlook 2022 projects 660 million people will be without access to electricity in 2030, only a 14% improvement in access over the remaining 8 years to 2030. This is an insufficient level of access that will result in withering consequences for the climate and development. Sub-Saharan Africa will host 90% of those living without access, up from 77% today. Women and youth will bear the brunt of this energy access deficit in lack of opportunity, security, and resiliency in the face of increasing climate disasters.
The energy pathways and resource dependencies developed across the African continent today will have profound climate impacts in the future. The 2021 report, Unlocking Climate Finance for Energy Access¹, demonstrated that delivering first-time household electricity access by 2030 via a low carbon trajectory avoids approximately 268 million tonnes of CO2eq emissions, if 43% was via off-grid solar solutions.
While proven off-grid solar technologies are key to advance progress towards SDG7 in most rural and vulnerable communities, the reality is that – in the near term – they face real jeopardy. Households in unconventional, hardest to reach markets and with affordability levels of a few dollars per month are at an increasing risk of being left behind as capital flows, specifically philanthropic commitments, are moving upstream away from the off-grid solar (OGS) sector towards larger decentralized renewable systems (e.g, mini-grids), productive use appliances and sizable carbon emission reductions. Off-grid solar business models, including PAYGo, have demonstrated the financial viability of delivering access through market-based approaches and the private sector. With an estimated 140 million households to be served by OGS, a recent market analysis shows this requires ~300 enterprises/distributors and USD22.3 billion of capital. Yet, the cumulative investment from 2017-2021 is only USD1.7 billion – with about 100 companies currently stranded in the valley of death, with limited funding in sight. At this pace, that 43% off-grid solar target and its development and climate benefits, won’t be met.
There is no question that making significant progress in delivering electricity access and the climate and development impacts that result from larger systems, more power and productive uses of energy are laudable and critical objectives. But why is this also limiting progress in delivering off-grid solar solutions for 1st time household access to electricity? This limitation will leave millions of people in the dark, using expensive, climate damaging and dangerous stop-gap measures, and decreasing people’s ability to adapt and build resiliency to climate disasters. It doesn’t have to be this way.
To deliver an equitable, clean energy transition, electricity access for all is required. The technologies and
business models exist today to leave no one behind. Let’s not keep them waiting.