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The IEA has released a preview of its 2011 International Energy Outlook (here in PDF).  In it is describes the challenge of providing energy access to people around the world and how current policies are falling well short.

Modern energy services are crucial to human well‐being and to a country’s economic development; and yet globally over 1.3 billion people are without access to electricity and 2.7 billion people are without clean cooking facilities. More than 95% of these people are either in sub‐Saharan Africa or developing Asia and 84% are in rural areas.

In 2009, we estimate that $9.1 billion was invested globally in extending access to modern energy services. In the absence of significant new policies, we project that the investment to this end between 2010 and 2030 will average $14 billion per year, mostly devoted to new on‐grid electricity connections in urban areas. This level of investment will still leave 1.0 billion people without electricity and, despite progress, population growth means that 2.7 billion people will remain without clean cooking facilities in 2030. To provide universal modern energy access by 2030 annual average investment needs to average $48 billion per year, more than five‐times the level of 2009. The majority of this investment is required in sub‐Saharan Africa.

Remarkably, the Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations do not even include energy access among their priorities.  Thus, it is no surprise that the IEA places making energy access a political prority at the top if its recommendations:

Adopt a clear and consistent statement that modern energy access is a political priority and that policies and funding will be reoriented accordingly. National governments need to adopt a specific energy access target, allocate funds to its achievement and define their strategy for delivering it.

In case you are curious, what does “energy access” actually mean?  The IEA defines energy access contextually, and it starts here:

The initial threshold level of electricity consumption for rural households is assumed to be 250 kilowatt‐hours (kWh) per year and for urban households it is 500 kWh per year. In rural areas, this level of consumption could, for example, provide for the use of a floor fan, a mobile telephone and two compact fluorescent light bulbs for about five hours per day. In urban areas, consumption might also include an efficient refrigerator, a second mobile telephone per household and another appliance, such as a small television or a computer.

I am sure that readers of this blog would hesitate to call such a level of consumption “energy access.”  The average US household uses 20-40 times as much energy! Even if US households were to cut their consumption by half (unlikely) under aggressive assumptions about efficiency, it would still vastly exceed the initial threshold defined by the IEA. 

The IEA observes that energy access is actually a process:

Once initial connection to electricity has been achieved, the level of consumption is assumed to rise gradually over time, attaining the average regional consumption level after five years. This definition of electricity access to include an initial period of growing consumption is a deliberate attempt to reflect the fact that eradication of energy poverty is a long‐term endeavour. In our analysis, the average level of electricity consumption per capita across all those households newly connected over the period is 800 kWh in 2030.

In anything, the IEA has underestimated future demand for energy, as 800 kWh per year is just the start. The world needs more energy — much more energy.