Progress on Cleaner Household Energy Access Reversed for First Time in a Decade
Despite the growth of renewable energy, the number of people worldwide without electricity access increased in 2022, for the first time in over a decade.

Progress on household electricity access suffered a setback for the first time in a decade – with 10 million more people lacking access in 2022 as compared to 2021, according to the 2024 Energy Progress Report released this week.

As many as 685 million people were without electricity access in 2022. Some 2.1 billion people continued to rely on polluting fuels like charcoal and biomass for household cooking – with shifts to cleaner, more modern alternatives largely stalled over the past year.

Overall, the world is far off course to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG)-7 for access to affordable, sustainable energy by 2030, according to the report, whose co-authors included the International Energy Agency, World Bank and World Health Organization.

Most of those lacking electricity access are in Sub-Saharan Africa

Worldwide, some 91% of people worldwide have electricity access as compared to 78% in the baseline year of 2000.  But over 80% of the global population without access to electricity live in sub-Saharan Africa – some 570 million people in the region,

A combination of factors contributed to the setbacks, including the global energy crisis, inflation, growing debt distress in many low-income countries, and increased geopolitical tensions, the report states.

The analysis highlights some promising trends in the rollout of decentralised energy solutions, largely based on renewable energy that is helping more rural areas gain electricity acces. However, most new investments are going to developed countries and not developing ones, worsening the inequity in energy access. Only 1% of PV solar capacity is in Africa.

“Air pollution and energy poverty are claiming lives, inflicting suffering and hindering development. Transitioning more rapidly to clean energy and cooking technologies is essential for protecting the health of the 2.1 billion people without access, and the health of the planet on which all life depends,” Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO).

SDG-7 seeks to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy. It includes reaching universal access to electricity and clean cooking, increasing efficiency, and substantially increasing the share of renewables in the global energy mix.

Attaining these goals will help reduce the toxic levels of air pollution inside homes as well as outdoors, which together kill an estimated 7 million people a year, according to WHO.

Nearly 685 million people were without electricity access in 2022 globally.

The report was produced by the International Energy Agency (IEA), the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD), the World Bank, and the World Health Organization (WHO).

It comes a few weeks after the WHO released its latest report on health statistics that found that the world is off course on achieving health-related SDGs as well, as reported by Health Policy Watch.

Billions without clean cooking

Around 2.1 billion people still live without access to clean cooking fuels and technologies, with the number remaining largely unchanged compared to the 2023 report that looked at trends for the year 2021.

Lack of access to clean cooking contributes to 3.2 million premature deaths each year, according to the report that calls for renewed political commitment on the issue.

Improving access to clean cooking would have a deep impact on people’s health, especially women’s health as they are the ones disproportionately burdened with the task of cooking for the family.

“To achieve Sustainable Development Goal 7, we will need much more investment in emerging and developing economies to expand access to electricity and to clean cooking technologies and fuels. Today, only a fraction of total energy investment is going to the countries where the problems of electricity access and clean cooking are critical, not least in Sub-Saharan Africa,” said Fatih Birol, Executive Director at the International Energy Agency.

Around 2.1 billion people continue to rely on health harmful biomass and solid cooking fuels globally.

Renewables are growing but so is inequity

The growth of renewable energy was seen as an encouraging sign.  Renewable electricity consumption grew by more than 6% year-on-year in 2021, bringing the share of renewables in global electricity consumption to 28.2%. Installed renewable energy-generating capacity per capita reached a new record in 2022.

But developed countries have 3.7 times more capacity installed than developing countries.

And even though the cost of renewable energy has plummeted, less than 1% of installed solar PV capacity is in Africa,  according to another recent IEA report.  Almost 80% of the investments in renewable energy remains concentrated in just 25 countries in 2022, according to the report released this week.

A key reason for this is that banks see investments in underserved regions where infrastructure may be sorely lacking as “high risk”, further increasing the vicious cycle of “energy poverty.”

“Year after year, renewables prove to be a leading player in increasing energy and electricity access through steady expansion of renewable power capacity,” said Francesco La Camera, Director-General of the International Renewable Energy Agency. “But distribution disparity remains stark, as reflected in the international public financial flows in support of clean energy. The rebound in the flows does indicate a positive signal, but it is nowhere near the needed amount to achieve SDG7.”

Progress on electricity access remains slow and inadequate to meet the SDG-7 targets by 2030.

Current rate of growth remains inadequate

New global targets pledged by over 130 countries in the UAE Consensus reinforce the objectives of SDG 7 by aiming to triple renewable generating capacity and double the rate of energy efficiency.

“There are solutions to reverse this negative trend, including accelerating the deployment of solar mini grids and solar home systems. The World Bank is actively working to support this acceleration, and jointly with the African Development Bank we have committed to providing electricity to an additional 300 million people by 2030,” said Guangzhe Chen, Vice President for Infrastructure at the World Bank.

Yet at the current rate of growth 660 million people will be without electricity access and around 1.8 billion without access to clean cooking technologies and fuels by 2030.

“Deployment of renewable electricity is on a growing trend, whereas other kinds of renewable are lagging, and energy efficiency improvements seem to have reached a bottleneck. Time is running short and more focused policies and investment are fundamental to ensure the provision of sustainable energy for all by 2030,” said Stefan Schweinfest, Director, United Nations Statistics Division.

The report will next be presented to top decision-makers during the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development in July.

Image Credits: Unsplash, 2024 Energy Progress Report.

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