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  • Destenie Nock

Traditional Approaches to Energy Access are Outdated, it’s Time for a New Model

Updated: Apr 7, 2020

Author: Destenie Nock

Originally Posted Nov 28, 2018 on Green Africa Blog Site


Nearly half of the 1.3 billion people in the world without access to electricity reside in Africa, meaning that once the sun goes down many people are left in the dark or depending on kerosene lamps.  In 2012, it was reported that only 35% of the people in Sub-Saharan Africa had access to electricity.  These statistics point to a large need for illuminating the African continent. While the causal relationship between a country’s growth and electricity access is controversial and there seems to be agreement that energy access increases overall well-being. Access to electricity can lead to enhanced education by allowing students to study late into the night, enhanced businesses by providing a method for people to automate their services and reach a larger customer base, and healthcare opportunities.

Figure 1: Number and share of Africans without access to electricity by country. International Energy Agency.

The United Nations (UN) has cemented the role between electricity access, and well-being through the roll out of their sustainable development goal (SDG) seven. Goal seven of the UN SDGs focuses on providing access to reliable, affordable, sustainable, clean and modern energy for all. Specifically, goal seven sets the stage for achieving the following targets by the year 2030:

  1. Ensure 100% access to affordable, reliable and modern energy services.

  2. Substantially increase the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix

  3. Enhance international cooperation to facilitate access to clean energy research and technology. This will include renewable energy, energy efficiency, and advanced cleaner fossil-fuel technology. Here the plan is to promote investment in energy infrastructure and clean energy technology.

  4. Electricity infrastructure, such as power plants and transmission lines, will be expanded and upgraded. There is a particular focus on the least developed countries, small island developing States, and land-locked developing countries.

According to Future Energy Africa, electricity demand in Africa is projected to triple by 2030 from the current level, offering huge potential for renewable energy deployment. The power sector requires investments of US$ 70 billion per year on average between now and 2030. To achieve SDG seven, a new wave of electricity penetration is expected to hit the continent. With the share of renewables increasing, there is a need for more research into decentralized power systems. The biggest challenge to eliminating energy poverty is not just converting goals or policies into kilowatts, but actually getting these kilowatts to real people at reasonable prices.

Traditionally, electricity access was approached as follows:

  1. Set the proportion of the population without access to electricity,

  2. Predict what demand this population will have in the future

  3. Use electricity planning models to determine the least-cost way of achieving this goal.

One issue with the traditional  approach is that many countries do not have access to the budget needed to achieve the goals; demand is very difficult to predict for populations without access; the rate of electricity adoption depends on access to low-cost appliances; many models only include large, centralized generation and transmission with only cost and access considered, ignoring equity, environmental impacts, or other aspects such as jobs and land use.The need for a holistic approach is therefore urgent. We need an approach that considers not just cost and access but equity in the level of access, environmental impacts, realistic resources constraint and other aspects such as jobs and land use.

For one approach check out this paper: "Changing the Policy Paradigm: A Benefit Maximization Approach to Electricity Planning in Developing Countries."Applied Energy. 2020. DOI

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