The Issue

The Energy Access Challenge

Energy access is increasingly seen as a vital catalyst to wider social and economic development. While there is no universally agreed-upon definition, the UN and World Bank-led Sustainable Energy for All initiative defines electricity access as the availability of an electricity connection at home or the use of electricity as the primary source for lighting. Recent surveys by UNF’s partners show that in particular at the household level low income consumers prioritize the need for basic electricity for powering lighting, for cellphone charging, and for television, as well as specific applications to help them earn a living.

More than a decade into the 21st century, the daily reality for over 1.1 billion people around the world is living with the absence of electricity and improved cooking technologies and fuels. Energy fuels human progress and lies at the heart of every country’s core interests: well-performing systems that provide efficient access to modern forms of sustainable energy are not only critical from a quality of life perspective, but they also strengthen opportunities to escape poverty by providing people with the means to generate income.

Studies have shown that reaching universal access to modern energy services by 2030 will be challenging but achievable. Because of the costs and issues associated with conventional electrical power grid extension, the International Energy Agency estimates that 60 percent of additional electricity generation to reach this goal will likely be met by mini-and micro-grids, and a range of off-grid electrification solutions.

With energy access, millions more children can study after dark. Countries can grow more resilient, competitive economies; with sustainable energy, they can leapfrog over the limits of the energy systems of the past and build the clean energy economies of the future. In short, development is not possible without energy, and sustainable development is not possible without sustainable energy.