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Sustainable Energy for All

Getting current: New tech giving more Africans access to electricity

Charles Feinstein's picture
Control room at a power station in Ghana. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst / World Bank)

Much work remains to be done to ensure reliable electricity access for Africa's citizens. A number of complications are making it difficult to achieve this UN Sustainable Development Goal. Yet access rates are expanding in many nations, and technology and design improvements offer opportunities to make rapid leaps forward. 

Of the 1.1 billion people on Earth without access to electricity, about half live in Africa. And while the World Bank’s Global Tracking Framework shows progress is being made to deliver electricity to those without, most of it is taking place in Asia. In Africa, it’s a different story.

How many people does it take to change a light bulb?

Ashok Sarkar's picture
What is this? Read on to find out.

Riddle us this. In what country are...
  • 450 million ceiling fans already in use, 40 million new ones sold every year?
  • 350 million fluorescent tube lights already in use, 10 million new sold every year?
  • 30 million air conditioners already in use, three million new sold every year?
If you guessed India, you are right.

With a population of about 1.2 billion, India is one of the largest consumer markets in the world. So it’s no surprise that household appliances account for several gigawatts of electricity usage across the country. As India’s middle class grows and people move from villages to towns and cities, electricity usage is only increasing. In fact, hundreds of millions of electric appliances will be added over the next few decades. This poses a serious challenge for India’s energy security since there already are electricity supply shortages, which often lead to chronic outages and blackouts. The surge in household appliances is also a climate change challenge—India, the world’s third-largest CO2 emitter, is predicted to continue increasing its greenhouse gas emissions at least until 2030.

But India is turning this challenge into an opportunity by tapping into energy efficiency solutions, a relatively new area with already a few major successes. Considered globally as the “first fuel,” energy efficiency is rising to the forefront of India’s quest for innovative solutions to provide 24/7 reliable and affordable electricity for all.

African women help their communities go solar

Carolyn Lucey's picture

Also available in: Arabic | Spanish

Wamayo’s solar lantern has helped her tailoring business grow.



This number cannot be emphasized enough – more than 1 billion people around the world live without access to electricity, and 2.9 billion still cook with polluting, harmful fuel like firewood and dung.

As we celebrate Earth Day, we're looking at the ways to bring energy access to those communities and transform lives, and at the same time, protect our planet’s resources. How can we make sure that the right progress for communities is the right progress for the planet? 

The good news is that the world is constantly coming up with new technology to address this challenge. We have portable, phone-charging solar lamps and energy efficient cookstoves that are affordable and practical for communities living off-the-grid. The challenge now is how to make sure the right technologies are available in affordable and sustainable ways to the communities that need them most.

Solar Sister is a social enterprise that recruits, trains, and supports African women launch clean-energy businesses in their communities, selling lights and cookstoves to their neighbors. We are organized around the principle that women must be intentionally included in discussions around energy.

Bridging the energy divide

Anita Marangoly George's picture
Haiti. Dominic Chavez / World Bank

Energy is fundamental to economic growth and environmental sustainability. Sustainable Development Goal 7 -- "Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all" -- recognizes that energy underpins progress in all areas of development. But 1.1 billion people still live without electricity, and another 2.9 billion live without modern fuels for cooking and heating.

Recognizing this gap is one thing. But having the working partnerships, monitoring tools and financing to move forward is another matter. The great news about the Energy SDG is that these pieces are finally falling into place.

A major factor in this momentum is Sustainable Energy for All, an initiative set up after Rio+20, the UN's 2012 Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro. The SE4All initiative has high-level leadership and strong political support. Co-led and chaired by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim, it has quickly brought together the public sector, private sector and civil society around three ambitious goals: ensuring universal access to modern-energy services; doubling the rate of improvement in energy efficiency; and doubling the share of renewable energy in the global-energy mix.

Three breakthroughs that can help bring power to over a billion people

Charles Feinstein's picture
Solar panels in Mali (© Curt Carnemark / World Bank).This blog post was originally published on Ideas Lab.

Breakthroughs in energy technology are happening all over the world, improving access to power for people and making a real difference in their quality of life. While technological innovation tends to come predominantly from developed economies, we see incredible entrepreneurialism in developing countries when it comes to adopting and adapting new technology for local markets and needs. The challenge for poorer countries is getting timely access to the best and cleanest technologies.

When I was approached by Ideas Lab to share my energy innovation predictions, I decided to crowdsource ideas from my team in the World Bank’s Energy Global Practice. These are people in regular — almost daily — contact with the government and private sector in the world’s key emerging markets and low-income countries.

Their workdays are occupied by the challenge of improving energy services for millions of people in developing countries while also reaching the 1.2 billion people in the world still waiting for any electricity connection. And the challenge is to do this in ways that are sustainable for economies, people and the environment.

1. In terms of technology breakthroughs, at the top of everyone’s list: energy storage.

Energy Efficiency: Scaling Up to Cut Costs And Emissions

S. Vijay Iyer's picture

Energy Efficiency
Energy is essential to heat homes and cook meals. It is needed to deliver proper health care in hospitals and to teach children. It is essential for economic growth and development and for powering industries, farms and businesses. It is at the heart of any effort to make a better life possible for people all over the world, in particular for the world’s poorest.

IRENA puts renewable energy on the map

Vivien Foster's picture

Global Wind Map - Screenshot from Global Atlas of Renewable Energy PotentialIt’s been clear here at the World Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi that the International Renewable Energy Agency, or IRENA, is fast emerging as a leader in forging a more sustainable energy future. With 159 countries—plus the EU— having joined it, a staff of 70 and a $28-million annual budget, IRENA held its third Executive Assembly here, making an impressive show on the sidelines of the summit. One example is its Renewable Energy Roadmap, which attracted lively interest among delegates.

Summit opens with welcome moves for sustainable energy, but stark realities too

Vivien Foster's picture

French President François Hollande put his country on the Sustainable Energy for All train here at the World Energy Future Summit yesterday, affirming France's support for the initiative, whose advisory board is co-chaired by World Bank President Jim Yong Kim and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. In a speech devoted to the theme of preparing for the "après pétrole" era, Hollande highlighted three steps: first, create international funds for renewable energy investment pooling resources from petroleum exporting and importing countries; second, radically rethink our model of urbanization to make it less energy intensive; and third, secure a Global Climate Change Agreement for 2015, France stands ready to host the CoP and facilitate an agreement.

Paying for results: Energy+

Oliver Knight's picture

Among all the noise and commitments (or lack of) coming out of Rio, an announcement by the Government of Norway, in partnership with Ethiopia, Kenya and Liberia, is worth highlighting. As part of its contribution to the Energy+ Partnership it established in October 2011, Norway is to enter into three bilateral agreements to scale up access to sustainable energy in Ethiopia's rural areas, replace kerosene lamps with solar alternatives in Kenya, and support Liberia's development of a strategic energy and climate plan, with a major emphasis on ‘payment by results’.

Meeting sustainable energy challenges by seizing private sector opportunities

Vivien Foster's picture

Photo Credit: David Waldorf for the Rural Solar Project in BangladeshA successful inclusive green growth strategy has to address the question of how we generate and consume energy. Indeed, the energy question is where poverty and climate pressures meet. One in five people worldwide lives without electricity. Two in five use wood, charcoal, dung or coal to cook and heat their homes, usually at risk to their health.


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