Better energy access starts with better data

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Community representatives come to visit a family in the outskirts of Beni Democratic Republic of Congo
A new guidebook aims to help countries collect and analyze data to monitor progress toward Sustainable Development Goal 7. Photo: © World Bank / Vincent Tremeau

Improving access to electricity and clean cooking requires good data. However, national surveys often fail to give a nuanced picture of how households use energy, let alone the barriers they face in accessing it. 

A review of 78 household surveys shows that only a fraction — less than four percent of surveys — provides a detailed snapshot of how households access and use energy, including whether they depend on multiple fuels and devices for their energy needs or the quality and safety of their energy source. 

The lack of rigorous data means that governments do not have the necessary tools to invest in better energy access and protect the health of their people. 

National household surveys, on which most policymakers rely to collect energy access data, merely mention yes-or-no questions such as, “Do you have an electricity connection”?  

Asking a family about their electricity connection only scratches the surface. It doesn’t reveal whether and how long members of the household turn on the lights or appliances, and whether they can afford to pay the bills. 

It’s the same for cooking. Simply asking, “What is your main cooking fuel?” doesn’t help one understand the impact of cooking on health — such as exposure to harmful fumes. 

Access to clean household energy is key to universal health and development

Low-income countries suffer disproportionately from a lack of access to electricity and clean energy for cooking, space heating, and lighting.  

National electricity grids have expanded, adding more than 1.7 billion people in the last 20 years, benefitting urban areas for the most part and leaving rural areas behind. Around 2.6 billion people continue to lack access to clean fuels and technologies for cooking, with most residing in low- and middle-income countries.  

Polluting fuels and inefficient cooking devices are a deterrent to growth and improved welfare. They create dangerous levels of household air pollution, which is associated with a wide range of adverse health impacts.

Collecting better data on household energy use

Responding to the global call for greater availability and quality of energy data, the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Bank’s Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP), and the World Bank’s Living Standards Measurement Study (LSMS) developed core questions on household energy use. 

These questions go further than simply establishing if a household can access electricity and what primary cooking fuel they use. They also cover the type of electricity access, the quality and impediments to access, the kind of fuels and devices used for cooking, heating, lighting, and critical safety and livelihood impacts of household energy use.

A new guidebook to measure—and help improve—energy use 

A new guidebook lists step-by-step instructions on how to incorporate the core questions into existing household surveys, administer the questions, and use the data to calculate key indicators on household energy use.

This approach aims to help countries collect and analyze data to monitor progress toward Sustainable Development Goal 7 (SDG7), indicators 7.1.1 (proportion of the population with access to electricity) and 7.1.2 (proportion of the population with primary reliance on clean fuels and technologies). 

The guidebook draws from ESMAP’s Multi-tier Framework (MTF) energy access project, which accounts for the vast differences across populations in accessing energy, along with the range of technologies that can provide such access. 

Looking to 2030 

The annual Tracking SDG 7: The Energy Progress Report shows that barring significant efforts, the world will fall short of ensuring universal access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all by 2030. 

The goal of the Guidebook is to improve the quality and utility of the data resulting from enhanced surveys to develop and implement effective policies to address energy access gaps and promote clean cooking, heating, and lighting. 

Measuring every step that brings the world towards SDG7 will help the global community achieve it. Our new data approach is a small yet critical step in that direction.  

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Elisa Portale

Senior Energy Specialist, The World Bank

Gbemisola Oseni

Senior Economist, Living Standards Measurement Study (LSMS), World Bank

Heather Adair-Rohani

Technical Lead on Energy and Health, WHO

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