Energy targets off course as clean cooking neglected: Report

Elizabeth Mukwimba from Tanzania now has solar lighting and a cleaner cookstove in her home thanks to schemes backed by U.K. aid. Photo by: Russell Watkins / Department for International Development / CC BY

LISBON — Governments are falling well short of their target for universal energy access, with 674 million people expected to still be living without electricity by 2030, according to a new report.

The Energy Progress Report looked at advancements between 2010-2015 on renewable energy and energy efficiency, and between 2010-2016 on electricity access and clean cooking. Results for the latter were the worst: At the current rate, the report estimates 2.3 billion people will still be using unhealthy, traditional cooking methods when the Sustainable Development Goals expire 12 years from now.

Released Wednesday at the Sustainable Energy for All conference in Lisbon, Portugal, the study represents the main effort to track progress against SDG7, which aims for universal energy access by 2030. It was prepared by the agencies responsible for reporting on SDG7 indicators, including the World Bank, World Health Organization, and International Energy Agency. The goal will also be up for review at the United Nations High-Level Political Forum in New York in July.

Speaking at the event in Lisbon, Riccardo Puliti, senior director for energy and extractives at the World Bank, said: “We are not on track to meet the SDG7 goals by 2030.”

“In some countries, people still suffer from constant power outages, in some cases more than 40 per week,” he said.

Singling out Kenya, Puliti added that countries pursuing both off-grid and on-grid solutions were making the best progress.

One billion people currently live without electricity — 87 percent are in rural areas, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

Vivien Foster, global lead for energy economics, markets, and institutions at the World Bank, told reporters earlier this week that the rate of electricity access has accelerated since 2010, with around 130 million people now being reached each year. Yet she said the world needs to move faster to meet its 2030 target.

Foster highlighted one positive finding: That in sub-Saharan Africa the number of people living without electricity has begun to fall in absolute terms for the first time.

“In the past we’ve seen Africa making a lot of efforts but just not being able to keep up with population growth,” she said. “This has finally reversed and we think it may be a turning point for electrification on the continent.”

Progress has come mostly in East Africa, with Rwanda, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Tanzania all bringing electricity to more than 3 percent of their population each year, she added.

At least 30 million people worldwide are benefiting from off-grid solar energy systems, Foster said. This is mostly focused in a dozen countries, however, where solar electricity sometimes reaches up to 15 percent of the population.

In East Africa, she said the prevalence of mobile money had also facilitated pay-as-you-go systems where people pay in instalments for their solar panels through their phones. “These kind of commercial innovations are proving to be effective in expanding access, and we hope that this experience will inspire other African countries to follow suit,” she said.

Clean cooking

The attempt to eradicate the use of harmful cooking practices made the least progress of any aspect examined in the report. At present, 3 billion people are without clean cooking fuel and technology, while household air pollution from burning biomass for cooking and heating claims around 4 million lives each year.

The report cited “low consumer awareness, financing gaps, slow technological progress, and lack of infrastructure for fuel production and distribution” as reasons for the pessimistic outlook on progress for 2030. In Africa, population growth is happening four times faster than expansion in access to clean cooking, Foster said.

Clean cookstove market needs 'wholesale reappraisal' — Rachel Kyte

Financing for clean cookstoves is a fraction of what it needs to be at $32 million annually, according to a new report. Rachel Kyte, a U.N. special representative, said the poor levels of funding were failing to tackle a huge social problem and undermining progress toward achieving core SDG goals.

In September, Rachel Kyte, chief executive officer of Sustainable Energy for All, called for a “wholesale reassessment” of the clean cookstove sector, after a report from her organization found that financial support was “not even in the same ballpark” as what is required.

Foster drew attention to the fact that the issue of clean cooking is sometimes orphaned on the political landscape, falling between forestry, energy, and health departments. Entry costs are also quite high, both for households looking to buy stoves that protect their health and for governments looking to incentivize their citizens, she added.

“Some countries that have scaled up rapidly have subsidized LPG [liquid petroleum gas] but that might not be fiscally affordable always,” Foster said.

Energy efficiency and renewables

SDG7 aims to double the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency by 2030, requiring a yearly decline in energy intensity — the ratio of energy used per unit of gross domestic product — of 2.6 percent. Instead, between 2010 and 2015, the decline in energy intensity was 2.2 percent.

Foster welcomed the “decoupling” of economic growth and energy use, with global GDP growing nearly twice as fast as primary energy supply between 2010 and 2015.

However, she singled out the transport sector in high-income countries, particularly freight, as one area with great scope for efficiency gains. Meanwhile, in low- and middle-income countries, energy consumption in the residential sector has caused the most cause concern, “rising very rapidly.”

If the status quo continues, the report found the share of modern renewable sources — excluding traditional sources such as firewood and charcoal — in final energy consumption will hit 15 percent in 2030, up from 9.6 percent in 2015 but far short of the “substantial increase” envisaged under SDG7.

Despite the steady rise of renewables in electricity generation, this only represents 20 percent of energy consumption, Foster said. “The other 80 percent is heating and transportation, and neither of these two sectors are doing very well in terms of the conversion to renewable energy,” she said.

In the transport sector, less than 3 percent of energy comes from renewable sources, while in the heating sector, “the progress on renewables has been very, very stagnant for quite some time.”

About the author

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    Vince Chadwick

    Vince Chadwick is the Brussels Correspondent for Devex. He covers the EU institutions, member states, and European civil society. A law graduate from Melbourne, Australia, he was social affairs reporter for The Age newspaper, before moving to Europe in 2013. He covered breaking news, the arts and public policy across the continent, including as a reporter and editor at POLITICO Europe.