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Covid-19 pandemic has made electricity unaffordable for millions of Africans

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The financial impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has made basic electricity services unaffordable for 30 million people, mostly located in Africa, according to a new report.

While the last decade has seen a greater share of the global population gain access to electricity than ever before, the number of people without it in Sub-Saharan Africa has actually increased.

A publication titled ‘Tracking SDG 7: The Energy Progress Report’ was released today by the International Energy Agency (IEA); the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA); the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA); the World Bank, and the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The report calls for a major scaling-up of efforts to expand access to electricity in countries with the largest deficits. People in Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia had the biggest electricity access deficits, the report found, with Ethiopia replacing India in the top three.

Globally, the number of people without access to electricity declined from 1.2bn in 2010 to 759m in 2019. Electrification through decentralised renewable-based solutions in particular gained momentum.

The number of people connected to mini grids has more than doubled between 2010 and 2019, growing from five to 11 million people. However, under current and planned policies - and further affected by the Covid-19 crisis - an estimated 660 million people would still lack access in 2030, most of them in Sub-Saharan Africa.

At the same time, some 2.6 billion people remained without access to clean cooking in 2019, one third of the global population. Efforts to improve this figure have been ongoing for years, with international bodies issuing a call for greater support in 2017 that has not been met.

Largely stagnant progress since 2010 leads to millions of deaths each year from breathing cooking smoke, the report said, and without rapid action to scale-up clean cooking, the world will fall short of its target by 30 per cent by 2030.

The state of access in the Sub-Saharan African region is characterised by population growth outpacing gains in the number of people with access, so that 910 million in the region lack access to clean cooking.

The scaling-up of renewables is cited as a key way to mitigate some of the issues identified in the report. The sector has proven more resilient than other parts of the energy sector during the Covid-19 crisis.

While it has seen unprecedented growth over the last decade, its share of total final energy consumption remained steady as global energy consumption grew at a similar rate.

More than one third of the increase in renewable energy generation in 2018 can be attributed to East Asia, driven by large uptakes of solar and wind energy in China.

“On a global path to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, we can reach key sustainable energy targets by 2030 as we expand renewables in all sectors and increase energy efficiency,” said Fatih Birol, IEA executive director. “Greater efforts to mobilise and scale-up investment are essential to ensure that energy access progress continues in developing economies.

“Providing electricity access and clean cooking solutions to those people who are deprived of them today costs around $40bn a year, equal to around 1 per cent of average annual energy sector investment on a path to net zero by 2050. This fairer and cleaner energy future is achievable if governments work together to step up actions.”

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