Energy is widely regarded as a major determinant of economic prosperity of any State. It is accepted as a crucial ingredient that propels any economic activity, and indeed the pillar of wealth creation. Especially in the developing world, the provision of a greater access to energy has been suggested by some as vital in helping grow their economies and improve the lives of the poor. Onakoya et al. (2013) finds the output of the energy sector (electricity and the petroleum products) usually consolidating the activities of the other sectors which provide essential services to direct the production activities in agriculture, manufacturing, mining, commerce et cetera. Kumi (2017), recognizes electricity as playing a significant role in undertaking daily activities from cooking, lighting, heating to powering machines in the industrial sector. As the need for quality healthcare delivery, education, transport, effective communication, mineral exploration and agricultural expansion increases; the need for energy similarly increases.
According to the International Energy Agency (IEA 2019), energy access policies continue to produce result, with 2018 data showing promising signs. The number of people without access to electricity fell from almost 1 billion in 2017 to 860 million, a record in recent years. IEA’s latest analysis of Africa Energy Outlook 2019 show, in Africa the number of people gaining access to electricity doubled from 9 million a year between 2000 and 2013 to 20 million people between 2014 and 2018, outpacing population growth. As a result, the number of people without electricity access, which peaked at 610 million in 2013, declined slowly to roughly 595 million in 2018. In developing Asia, almost 1 billion people have gained access to electricity, with 94 percent of the region having access to electricity in 2018, compared to 67 percent in 2000.
Though greater efforts have been made over the past decades to provide energy to as much percentage of the population as possible by individuals, firms and governments, recognizing energy as essential for humanity to develop and thrive, it is the adoption in 2015 of new United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that defined a new level of political recognition of the importance of energy to development. It places energy at the heart of both the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. And for the very first time, United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) contain a target to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.
Access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy remain the focus of SDG7. According to McCollum et al. (2017), SDG7 is underpinned by three targets: ensuring universal access to energy services (7.1), increasing the share of renewables in the energy mix (7.2), and improving energy efficiency (7.3).
The United Nation (UN) recognizes electricity access as crucial to the achievement of many of the other SDGs. In a 2018 Policy Brief on achieving universal access to electricity, the United Nation suggest that providing connections to households is not enough to ensure economic and social development. Electricity needs to be available reliably and affordably not only for households to access meaningful services, but also for income generating activities and public services.
According to the intergovernmental organization, ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all by 2030 will open a new world of opportunities for billions of people through new economic opportunities and jobs, empowered women, children and youth, better education and health, more sustainable, equitable and inclusive communities, and greater protections from, and resilience to, climate change. That energy (including electricity) is only useful to the extent that it provides useful services and drives actions. Therefore, while it is important to measure energy access directly, the true impact is on enabling the success of other SDGs.
Energy access has been described severally as the missing Millennium Development Goal (MDG), as energy services can contribute to a large extent to the attainment of all SDGs. Achieving the goals of SDG7 therefore will impact, and be impacted by progress along the many other SDG dimensions:
- SDG1 (No poverty), SDG8 (Decent work and economic growth), SDG9 (Industry, innovation, and infrastructure): The developed part of the world have found reliable and affordable energy as an enabler to goods and services that has enriched and extended lives. Reliable and consistent supply of affordable energy is more vital to modernizing agriculture, increasing trade, empowering women, saving lives, improving transportation, expanding industries, improving education, providing clean water, and powering communications; serving as building blocks for escaping poverty and enriching lives.
The IEA sees access to modern energy as the “golden thread” that knits together economic growth, human development and environmental sustainability. The Deployment of renewable forms of energy and energy-efficient technologies can stimulate innovation and reinforce industrial and employment objectives.
- SDG5 (Gender equality), SDG2 (Zero hunger), and SDG6 (Clean water and sanitation): Energy access would increase the number and range of opportunities for women, thus reducing the inequality gaps that exist. For instance, access to energy may afford women the chance to work from home and thereby generate an independent source of income, reduce the importance of physical gender differences in the labour force, and Public outdoor lighting would increase security for women and girls though public outdoor lighting, potentially enabling them to continue autonomous activities outside their households after dark.
Also, energy remains a vital input to agriculture to ensure efficient food production, and food security. Irrigation pumps may be electrically powered can increase crop yields, increase the value of the products and generate economic and employment gains. Electricity is required for food refrigeration so as to reduce spoilage, and increases access to food. Moreover, a lot of energy is required to install and operate water extraction, transport and treatment systems to provide clean water and sanitation.
- SDG3 (Good health and wellbeing): It is estimated by the IEA that nearly 4 million people die prematurely on annual basis from the use of polluting fuels and technologies in households for cooking, heating and lighting, without adequate ventilation. The body suggests that the provision of modern energy access for all can lower the premature death toll by around 1.8 million people per year in 2030. Thermal comfort (heating and cooling) and refrigeration are key to good health and nutrition, which highlights the need to ensure access to affordable and reliable energy. Use of energy-efficient appliances such as clean cook-stoves is fundamental to improving indoor air quality. Energy’s contribution to food conservation along the supply chain helps avoid the health risks associated with bacterial contamination. Moreover, health care facilities require reliable electricity to function and power medical devices. Also refrigeration enables rural populations to store the medicines and vaccines necessary for ensuring community health.
- SDG4 (Quality education): Squire (2015) studied the effect of access to electricity on school attendance and educational attainment, and finds that although reduction in education was accompanied by an increase in childhood employment; suggesting that improved labor market opportunities due to electricity access led to the increased drop-out rates, the study also finds evidence that increases in adult employment was driving children to stay home (and have opportunity to learn) to compensate for parents going off to work.
A 2014 report prepared for the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) by the Consultant Benjamin Sovacool, indicate clearly that electrification can enable classes to be taught early in the morning or late at night, enabling the use of modern mass media tools in the classroom such as the internet and televisions. That schools with access to electricity have better staff retention, outperform non-electrified schools on key educational indicators, and can in some cases enable broader social and economic development of communities. Also McCollum et al. (2017) argue that energy provides well-lit, well-heated and well-cooled schools and households; essentials for creating learning spaces for children and adults. Information and communication technologies, on which modern education is based, also require energy input. It is a key element of science education, and better inclusion of energy in school curricula may foster better science literacy at all levels of society. Conversely, quality education is an enabling factor in achieving SDG7, given that knowledge and skills influence the feasibility of implementing access solutions from technical, financial and political perspectives.
- SDG13 (Climate action): Reliable modern energy access can improve the resilience of households and communities to a changing climate, despite electricity generation contributing a large share of global CO2 emissions. Dagnachew et al. (2018) analyzed trade-offs and synergies between achieving universal electricity access and climate change mitigation in Sub-Saharan Africa. The results shows a strong synergy in emissions reduction and investment savings, particularly driven by the regions’ efficiency improvements of household appliances. On the other hand, climate mitigation policies are projected to increase the cost of electricity per kilowatt-hour (kWh), depending on fossil fuel share in the mix. Therefore, they conclude that because increasing electricity access can have notable consequences for global climate change, climate policies will need to be combined with complementary policies such as pro-poor tariffs, fuel subsidies, and cross subsidization to protect the poor from increasing electricity prices. According to IEA, cost reductions in renewables, storage and energy efficiency as a result of deployment globally will facilitate rural electrification, with little or no climate change risk.
Written by Nana Amoasi VII, Institute for Energy Security (IES) ©2020
The writer has over 23 years of experience in the technical and management areas of Oil and Gas Management, Banking and Finance, and Mechanical Engineering; working in both the Gold Mining and Oil sector. He is currently working as an Oil Trader, Consultant, and Policy Analyst in the global energy sector. He serves as a resource to many global energy research firms, including Argus Media and CNBC Africa