To end poverty by 2030, we need energy access for all by 2020

by William Brent | @mrcleantech | Power for All
Tuesday, 11 October 2016 07:09 GMT

A woman looks at her mobile phone as it charges through solar panels after Hurricane Matthew passes in Jeremie, Haiti, Oct. 9, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

Image Caption and Rights Information

* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Speeding up energy access would give other electricity-reliant development goals enough time to be implemented

"We're making progress, but must work faster to reach sustainable energy for all goals by 2030.” This recent Tweet from the World Bank sums up where the global community stands with its mission of eradicating energy poverty, i.e. providing electricity to 1.1 billion people over the next 14 years.

First, the good news. "Universal energy access" - ensuring modern, clean, affordable energy to every person on the planet - has never had more attention than it does today. Money is increasingly flowing to countries, companies and civil society organizations working to end energy poverty.

Pro-access policies are being adopted by more and more national governments. And social enterprises and private companies are connecting more people to power than ever before.

Evidence of progress has been everywhere in 2016: the African Development Bank (AfDB) announcing a hugely ambitious New Deal for Energy, or Deutsche Bank's recent proposal to spend $3.5 billion on energy access over the next 15 years. Or talk of using 1% of funds divested from fossil fuels - tens of billions of dollars - and putting the money toward energy access.

Programs like Power Africa and Energy Africa have helped companies connect tens of millions of people. Global energy access campaign, Power for All, just recruited its 100th partner to push for better finance and policy, reflecting the growing might of the sector.

Perhaps the biggest breakthrough, however, is that the wall that has traditionally existed between so-called "off-grid" (decentralized) and "on-grid" (centralized) energy is breaking down.

"There is no dichotomy between on-grid and off-grid solutions,” AfDB president Akinwumi Adesina said recently. That shift is critical because, according to the leading international energy body, about 60% of all new electricity connections should be off-grid or mini-grid. Yet as of 2014 none of the development banks - not the World Bank nor the AfDB - spent more than 2% of their energy money on off-grid or mini-grid.

And it's this persistent and massive gap between what's needed and what's happening on the ground where the bad news comes in. In fact, a 2015 internal World Bank audit showed that with the current business-as-usual approach and population growth, the number of unelectrified is actually set to increase to 1.2 billion by 2030.

As Jesse Moore, founder of leading energy access company M-Kopa (which has nearly half a million customers in east Africa) said last week, decentralized solutions are still being treated as a "side-show", and will not be able to scale without a massive influx of financing and regulatory support.

We're not even close to achieving escape velocity and meeting the 2030 deadline for energy access. This matters because, as major global decision-makers have openly acknowledged - the UN, CEOs, investors and the World Bank head -  without access to energy, many if not all of the 16 other Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are unattainable.

Energy access, aka SDG7, is fundamental. Which means it must be achieved far earlier than 2030 to give the other electricity-reliant goals - education, healthcare, gender equality, water, agriculture, sanitation - enough time to be implemented.

A sense of urgency is important, as is stating our good intentions. But we also need to make energy access a reality that can then power the other development goals. Ambition and action are required. What does action look like?

2020 Vision: the target for universal energy access must be moved up a decade. Kenya, a leader in scaling renewables, has set such a target. India has too. Others must follow. 

Grand Partnership”: leaders across the development spectrum - finance, healthcare, education, gender, water - must collaborate effectively to make sure that energy is foundational in achieving all SDGs and integrated into SDG delivery plans pre-2030

4x4 Finance: annual finance to decentralized clean energy must quadruple each year for the next four years

Kill Subsidies: the G-20 needs to set a global example and immediately end fossil fuel subsides to level the playing field for renewable energy solutions and send a clear market signal to emerging economies, where kerosene and diesel are often still heavily subsidized

Policy-in-a-Box: an easy-to-follow set of policy tools for national governments to create an energy access friendly market framework

Location, Location, Location: special attention must be paid to India and Nigeria, which will be the world’s No. 1 and No. 3 most populous countries by 2050.

William Brent is a director of the Power for All campaign.